Summary and book reviews of The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

The UnAmericans

Stories

by Molly Antopol

The UnAmericans
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2014, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

The UnAmericans, a stunning exploration of characters shaped by the forces of history, is the debut work of fiction by Molly Antopol, a 2013 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Honoree.

An absentee father, a former dissident from communist-era Prague, needles his adult daughter for details about her newly commissioned play when he fears it will cast him in an unflattering light. An actor, imprisoned during the Red Scare for playing up his communist leanings to get a part with a leftist film director, is shamed by his act when he reunites with his precocious young son. An Israeli soldier, forced to defend a settlement filled with American religious families, still pines for a chance to discover the United States for himself. A young Israeli journalist, left unemployed after America's most recent economic crash, questions her life path when she begins dating a middle-aged widower still in mourning for his wife. And in the book's final story, a tour de force spanning three continents and three generations of women, a young American and her Israeli husband are forced to reconsider their marriage after the death of her dissident art-collecting grandmother.

Again and again, Molly Antopol's deeply sympathetic characters struggle for footing in an uncertain world, hounded by forces beyond their control. Their voices are intimate and powerful and they resonate with searing beauty. Antopol is a superb young talent, and The UnAmericans will long be remembered for its wit, humanity, and heart.

The Old World

No one wants to listen to a man lament his solitary nights—myself included. Which is why, on an early fall morning four months after Gail left, when a woman breezed into my shop with a pinstriped skirt in her arms and said, "On what day this can be ready?" I didn't write a receipt, tell her Tuesday and move on to the next customer. Instead I said, "Your accent. Russian?"

"Ukrainian."

"The Jewel of the Baltic! I've read a lot about it," I said. "The art, the food, those ancient fishing villages!" On and on I went—though I had not, in fact, read about it. I had, however, caught a television special once, but I remembered little more than twisted spires, dreary accordions, plates of pink fish, pocked and shiny.

"Ukraine," she said slowly, "is not on the Baltic." She had a wide pale face, full lips and short blond hair dyed the color of curry.

"Ah," I said, and swallowed.

But she didn't walk away. She squinted, as if trying to see ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  • Many of the characters in The UnAmericans travel or change locations during the course of their story. How does this seem to affect who they are?
  • What beliefs do these characters cling to, and how do they struggle with letting go?
  • The age-old themes of East versus West and Old World versus New World are big ones in The UnAmericans. How do these themes relate to the characters' ideas about religion, or about family, or about growing old?
  • How does the history of a given character's home country agree with or depart from his or her own history or destiny?
  • Think about the idea of home. What does the word mean to these characters?
  • Why might the author have titled her collection of stories The UnAmericans? Consider the settings,...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The UnAmericans powerfully shows what happens to everyday people when the moral compass they use to navigate their daily lives no longer points true north. Life can be a challenge without a good radar.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (928 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

What draws the reader to her deeply flawed characters is their keen self-awareness, and their consequent ability to act with a semblance of moral, sometimes even selfless, integrity.

Kirkus Reviews

A smart, empathetic, well-crafted first collection - Antopol is a writer to watch

Library Journal

Starred Review. These rich stories, in many ways reminiscent of the work of Grace Paley (The Little Disturbances of Man), are often sharply funny and always intelligent, and readers will find them immediately appealing.

Author Blurb Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Orphan Master's Son
A writer of seismic talent…Not since Robert Stone has a writer so examined the nature of disillusionment and the ways in which newfound hope can crack the cement of failed dreams.

Author Blurb Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones
Beautiful, funny, fearless, exquisitely crafted, and truly novelistic in scope…This book isn't simply powerful and important - it's necessary.

Author Blurb Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
Molly Antopol's stories display that wonderful combination of an original voice with settings that are masterfully rendered. A rich collection, a great read.

Author Blurb Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia
A brave, generous, and effortlessly smart story collection by a young writer with talent to burn.

Reader Reviews

Diane S

The Unamericans
3.5 The thread connecting all these stories is that of the immigrant, hence unamericans. They take place in different times and places. Ordinary people often caught up in matters beyond their control, how tenuous are the connections between people ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

McCarthyism

McCarthysim Cartoon by Herbert BlockIn "The Unknown Soldier," one of the stories in Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans, a young actor, Alexi Liebman, has to serve jail time because he comes under suspicion that he is a member of the American Communist party. This fictional account is based on very real events that took place in the United States.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Americans were growing increasingly worried about the spread of Communism in China and Eastern Europe. Espionage cases unearthed at home, where government officials had been convicted of sharing secrets with the "enemy," only compounded fears. The collective nervousness was enough to fuel mass hysteria around the "Red Scare."

Movie Poster for Storm CenterIt is in this environment that Senator Joseph McCarthy found an opening to...

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