When Frederick Meisenheimer begins serenading his future wife Jette from behind a privet hedge in Havover’s Grosse Garten, the course of both their lives changes forever.
A Good American
A Good American
Reviewed by Ellie Walker-Arnott
Soon Frederick and a pregnant Jette find themselves fleeing Jette’s angry parents, and with it their beloved hometown. They head for the port to board a boat to America - the land of prosperity, opportunity and new beginnings. But instead of setting sail for New York as was their original plan, the couple find themselves steaming towards New Orleans on board the Copernicus. Once on dry land again in the strange and surreal Deep South, flooding on the train line sends Jette and Frederick up the Mississippi off in another direction - and before they have a chance to choose where to begin their new American existence, the sudden arrival of their first born, Joseph, sees them unexpectedly putting down roots in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri.
And it is here, within the boundaries of a small, rural community and against the backdrop of America’s vivid history that their family’s story is played out. Peppered with musical, historical and culinary colour, A Good American follows the generations of the Meisenheimer family as they attempt to find their place in America. At the heart of this sweeping and colourful novel is the struggle of the immigrant living in a country where the music is unrecognisable, the food strange and the language alien. From prohibition and pet racoons to racial tensions and barbershop quartets, Alex George effortlessly breathes life into each decade, character and new discovery until the generations of Jette’s family have evolved into born and bred Americans.
Yet A Good American also exposes the haphazard nature of destiny. His characters have very little control over how their story pans out – alongside their satisfaction, contentment and joy there is disappointment, loneliness and unfulfilled potential. Life happens to the Meisenheimer family as it does to us - whether we want it to or not. By opening the door to a stranger, giving into their drunken desires or overhearing a conversation George’s characters take drastically different turns, without them even realising it. A Good American, littered with vibrant characters and bizarre plot twists, is told by a charming narrative voice who guides you seamlessly through a century on American soil.