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Summary and book reviews of A Good American by Alex George

A Good American

A Novel

by Alex George

A Good American
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2013, 432 pages

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Book Summary

An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.

It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead ("What's the difference? They're both new"), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.

Beatrice is populated with unforgettable characters: a jazz trumpeter from the Big Easy who cooks a mean gumbo, a teenage boy trapped in the body of a giant, a pretty schoolteacher who helps the young men in town learn about a lot more than just music, a minister who believes he has witnessed the Second Coming of Christ, and a malevolent, bicycle-riding dwarf.

A Good American is narrated by Frederick and Jette's grandson, James, who, in telling his ancestors' story, comes to realize he doesn't know his own story at all. From bare-knuckle prizefighting and Prohibition to sweet barbershop harmonies, the Kennedy assassination, and beyond, James's family is caught up in the sweep of history. Each new generation discovers afresh what it means to be an American. And, in the process, Frederick and Jette's progeny sometimes discover more about themselves than they had bargained for.

Poignant, funny, and heartbreaking, A Good American is a novel about being an outsider - in your country, in your hometown, and sometimes even in your own family. It is a universal story about our search for home.

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Reading Guide

Excerpt
The Good American

[The book's narrator, James Meisenheimer, discovers the delights of English humor.]

Rosa told me lots of good jokes. Even better, she taught me how to tell them. Boys tend to race through jokes, desperate to get to the punch line. My aunt taught me to slow down. She showed me how each joke was put together - where to pause, what to emphasize, how to deliver the pay-off. She made me practice the same routine over and over again, and then sent me home to perform it for my brothers.

Encouraged, I began to study the professionals. Jette had a radio in her living room, and we would listen to the first superstars of comedy while we leaned over the chessboard: Abbott and Costello, Amos n' Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Edgar Bergen. Rosa liked Jack Benny best, but Eddie Cantor was my favorite. Sunday nights belonged him. I adored his fast-talking, wise-cracking delivery, but what I liked most of all was that he was a monologue merchant. The other ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Frederick is an uncritical lover of America, but Jette is not. What is it that Frederick loves most about America? What is it that Jette has reservations about? In what ways do you agree or disagree with each of them? Why does Frederick go off to war? Do you think it is selfish of him? Is he deserting his family?


  2. One of the central paradoxes of the immigrant experience that the novel dramatizes is the desire to remain connected to the old country and yet become fully American. Do you think assimilation happens more quickly and fully in the United States than elsewhere? Do you think it is happening as rapidly with today's immigrants as it did generations ago?


  3. What does being a good American mean to you? Do you think Frederick ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Alex George's A Good American has gotten wonderful reviews from BookBrowse readers; 20 out of 23 people rate if 4 or 5 stars! Here's what they have to say:

A Good American is one of the best generational stories I have ever read. The author - Alex George - is an immigrant, and he obviously has fallen in love with America. His understanding of the challenges and opportunities experienced by our ancestors upon entry into the United States is evident. This novel presents the reader with a wide range of emotional highs and lows, joys and tragedies, and examples of good behavior and dastardly acts (Steve B). George's novel grabbed and held my attention from the very beginning. I felt that the characters were well drawn, the family story lines were consistent and well developed, and everything was entirely believable (Mary D).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

George spins this captivating family tale in a clear, straightforward, unsentimental style.

Publishers Weekly

George... evokes small-town life lovingly, sometimes disturbingly, and examines the ties of family, the complications of home, and the moments of love and happiness that arrive no matter what.

Kirkus Reviews

At times the novel feels like a fictionalized historical catalogue, but there are lovely moments of humor and pathos that show real promise.

Author Blurb Sara Gruen, New York Times-bestselling author of Water for Elephants and Ape House
This lush, epic tale of one family's journey from immigrant to Good Americans had me alternately laughing and crying, but always riveted. It's a rich, rare treat of a book, and Alex George is a first-rate talent.

Author Blurb Eleanor Brown, New York Times-bestselling author of The Weird Sisters
As epic as an opera, as intimate as a lullaby, A Good American swept me through an entire century of triumph and tragedy with the wonderful Meisenheimer family. By turns laugh-out-loud funny and achingly sad, the story of the residents of Beatrice, Missouri, and all their glorious, messy secrets and dreams is a winner from the first page. Alex George has created that rare and beautiful thing - a novel I finished and immediately wanted to start again.

Author Blurb Beth Hoffman, New York Times-bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Richly drawn, tragic, yet laced with humor - A Good American is a remarkable, multigenerational story of a German immigrant family struggling to find roots as dreams collide with honor and secrets lead to heartache.

Reader Reviews

Becky H

A wonderful book
A lovely book that explores 4 generations of a family. Carefully drawn characters and a love of music permeate this novel that begins in Germany in 1904 and ends in Missouri in 2009.

Dorothy T.

Terrific story
There is not a dull moment in this book. The storyline about multiple generations of a German/American family is engrossing, and there are plenty of humorous situations. Alex George has plenty to say and he says it well. I could just hear that ...   Read More

Nikki

5 Heartfelt Stars!!
Please don't miss this one! It is a perfect novel. I hated for it to end. It is literary, lyrical, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, too! Do yourself a favor and pick this one up today.

Ruth

The Good American
I read this in one sitting and enjoyed the voices of the characters and the story of the family as if it was my own.

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Beyond the Book

German Americans

It might surprise you to learn that in the latest census, 51 million Americans self-identified as having German ancestry (estimates suggest that about 1/3 of these are of German ancestry alone, the rest are of partial German ancestry). That's a whopping 17% of the population, more than any other heritage group - over 13 million more than claim Irish heritage and almost double those who claim English heritage.

Because Germany as a country did not exist until 1871, many of the ancestors of today's German Americans would not have emigrated from Germany itself but from other parts of Europe that were dominated by German speakers during the height of the Holy Roman Empire (which had its center in the Kingdom of Germany, just one of the ...

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