I am often asked, “What have you read recently that you loved?” Last fall, after I finished A GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George, it was the book that I found myself talking about the most. As I read it months in advance of publication, I kept having to add a coda of “but it’s not in stores until February 2012.” Over the holiday, I asked the publisher for some extra advance reading copies and wrapped them up for family members and close friends --- and their responses upon reading it mirrored mine. They loved it.
So what attracted me to this story? At its central core is the idea of family --- and how families are complicated, but also how they define us. It opens as Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer leave their town in Germany; Jette is pregnant, and the couple is unmarried. Their journey starts with a rushed race from town as their secret has been discovered; they flee to keep from embarrassing their families. They settle in Missouri in 1904. While much fiction is written about European immigrants landing in New York, this Midwestern setting was fresh for me.
Narrated in the voice of their son, James, it moves on through the years as they raise their family. Often stories like this are told through the eyes of women, not men. I loved this voice as a result. James’s relationship with his brothers --- and the role of his mother as the only woman in the family of men --- was well drawn and told.
Throughout the book, there is a thread about our families all being immigrants in this country, as we all came from other places. There is something about families who came from other places to be here --- as well as the children of those immigrants --- that make them special. Throughout the book, people start one journey and end up on another, which often springs from casual encounters, like so much of life. Nothing unfolded just the way I would have expected it to, also much like real life.