Music, an unplanned pregnancy, and the promise of the American dream shape the destiny of generations of the Meisenheimer family.
In 1904, when Frederick and Jette decide to leave their native Germany for America, they are transported to a new and different world. After their overseas voyage, they arrive in New Orleans as outsiders, not understanding English, and with a vague notion of where they are headed to find a new home.
"A GOOD AMERICAN is a sweet and touching family saga, peopled with unique characters and memorable events."
With the promise of a job and a large German population in Missouri, the couple travels north up the Mississippi River. Frederick and Jette arrive in St. Louis at a pivotal time in the city’s history. St. Louis is crowded and noisy because of the 1904 World’s Fair (which surprisingly is not mentioned). Because of the imminent birth of their first child, the newlyweds are desperate to find a place to live. Coincidence and the kindness of strangers shape their destiny, and they settle down in the fictional town of Beatrice, Missouri, in the middle of America’s heartland.
Trying to adapt to a new country and learn a foreign language, while longing for the familiarity of home, is not an easy task. Through music and hard work, Frederick embraces the immigrant experience as the couple’s family grows. Jette is not as pliable or as patriotic as Frederick, which creates conflict and unhappiness at home.
Three generations later, grandson James narrates Jette and Frederick’s immigrant journey and the impact their decisions have made in shaping the lives of their family members.
Small-town life, world events and historical icons of the 20th century are woven into the story of the Meisenheimers’ immigrant experience: World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression, bare-knuckle prizefights, blue-plate specials, fire-and-brimstone sermons, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, World War II, racial discrimination, lynching, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, opera, ragtime, jazz, barbershop quartets, and more. As the story of each generation unfolds, family members face their own set of dilemmas.
Alex George, himself an immigrant from England living in mid-Missouri, captures the essence of the challenges and joys of pulling up stakes and making a home in a foreign land. As a native Missourian married to a German immigrant, the book has a special appeal for me. Beyond the story of the Meisenheimers lies a tale of the bravery and strength of the immigrant spirit, as well as the power of music and books to connect people, regardless of their differences.
A GOOD AMERICAN is a sweet and touching family saga, peopled with unique characters and memorable events. It is sure to hit a high note with readers who embrace stories about triumph in the face of adversity.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt on February 9, 2012