- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam (February 7, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 039915759X
- Source: Publisher
It’s 1904. Frederick, a junior clerk in a small bank, falls in love with Jette, the daughter a woman striving to use her daughter’s future husband as a means to elevate herself in society. Needless to say, Frederick doesn’t exactly live up to Jette’s mother’s expectations. She’s disgusted by Frederick’s “lack of breeding” and forbids Jette from seeing him again. Of course, this just draws Jette and Frederick even closer. Soon, Jette discovers she is pregnant. Frederick is elated, Jette is a bit more realistic, knowing that her mother will never accept this child as part of the family. Without any other options, the young couple decide to journey to a land known for new possibilities, America. They set forth on a ship, originally planning to go to New York. When the learn the ship they are about to board will instead take them to New Orleans Jetta replies “New York, New Orleans, what’s the difference. They are both New. That’s good enough.” Embarking on this ship, they are also embarking on a new life together.
They ultimately end up in Beatrice, Missouri, not necessarily a planned stop. Beatrice is a small town, many of the people speak German, making Frederick and Jette feel at home. It’s not long before they get settled, attempting to keep some semblance of their native land, of their roots, in this new country. So begins the story of a century of the Meisenheimer family. Surrounded by extremely unique and rich characters, each generation of this family is forced to rediscover it’s own unique identity while at the same time appreciating and understanding those before them. It is a multi-generational story of German family, determined to live the dream set out by Frederick & Jette: finding home. The story is at times humorous, oftentimes it is achingly sad.
Two key things lie in the very core of this family: music and food. The book opens up with the line “Always, there was music.” Never have more true words been spoken. Despite the trials and tribulations the family were dealt, there was always music. Music and food. Each generation supported itself by feeding the community around it, starting with Jette and Frederick and their traditional German food. Despite the gradual transition to more American food, the family devoted itself to this life. Their restaurant served several roles throughout the years: a gathering place for those families with men in the war, during Prohibition, it became a place for people to enjoy food and entertainment. Core to it was always one element: family.
A Good American is a truly epic tale that, like good food or good wine, must be savored. The story of Frederick and Jette is told through the voice of their grandson, James. Despite having been born in the United States, at times James is just as confused about his identity as his grandparents before him. He, like those before him, learned that family isn’t only based on blood, on heredity. Family is made up of those that surround you, envelope you, care for you.
When I began reading A Good American, I had no idea what I was in for. I’d picked up on quite a bit of discussion about the book, but nothing too specific. I try to keep myself in the dark about highly popular books until I have had the chance to read them myself. Never could I have imagined how enamored I became with this book, the characters, everything Alex George, through the Meisenheimer family, portrayed to the reader. I laughed with the characters, cried and sobbed with them, celebrated their successes, learned from their failures. As each chapter ended, I refused to go on, but would go back and reread the passages again. I savored the story-like quality of the writing; oftentimes I felt as though I were sitting across the table from James, listening to him tell of his parents, his grandparents, and all those before him. It isn’t often that you come across a book like this anymore, one that you want to read over and over again, relishing each line. I do not exaggerate when I state that A Good American is a truly remarkable book. Highly, highly recommended.