A Good American – Alex George

Posted 21 February, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 14 Comments


Title: A Good American
Author: Alex George
Published: 2012 Pages: 411
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

In Short: Spanning three generations, A Good American is the tale of one family’s quest to make their adoptive country their own.

Why I read it: I received this book as part of BlogHer Book Club. It’s my first time participating and this one is a great choice for any book club.

Thoughts in General: So you all know that I don’t read book descriptions before reading a book, right? This kills Lisa. Kills her. I took from the cover of this book and the title that it would be set in the olden days and would involve letter writing and would probably be narrated by a woman. This is where the buzzer goes
Ehhhhhhhh. Things I wish I had known about this book going in: it spans 100ish years, it is narrated by a male, and there are no letters–at least not any that are read. I’m not going to give Lisa the satisfaction of saying “I told you so,” but I wish I had some sort of inkling what to expect with this one as my reading would have been a bit different.

I tell you all of this because it supports one of the pitfalls I experienced when I was reading A Good American–the book is propelled by major plot developments from start to finish but because the book does span three generations and 100ish years we don’t get to spend enough time with any one aspect of the book. I was left wanting more depth of emotion in some of the scenes and more development of character motive and perspective. There are a couple of really heartwrenching scenes in the book–parts that made me want to cry while reading at lunch and put it in the freezer to keep from more hurt–but they came and went quickly. Good news is there are some great potential spin-off stories in this book.

All that said, I enjoyed A Good American and found myself moving quickly through the story and eager to know what would happen next. This was especially true of the beginning of the book when Frederick and Jette traveled to Missouri from Germany and created a brand new life for them. I was reminded of my own ancestors who immigrated from Europe in the 1800s and 1900s. It’s hard to imagine the heartache that must have been experienced while leaving a life behind and the courage it required to start from anew.

The real winner of this book, however, is the writing. The writing is incredibly rich and descriptive.

“Joseph used to tell me that being a short-order cook is like dancing with ten girls at once, but he always made that complex choreography look effortless” (216).

“The sun’s reflection caught the crests of the gently rippling water. The dazzling quilt of light appeared quite still, as if time up there were frozen” (253).

“Now, after her solitary waltz across almost half a century, they were reunited at last. Their lovers’ duet, sweet and beautiful, would ring out again” (353).

Bottom Line: While there was a bit of a lag after the middle of the book and not quite as much depth as I typically prefer, A Good American kept my interest enough to spend any free time reading it–oftentimes with the mentality of “just one more chapter” (bonus–short chapters). I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a good long family saga where every subject under the sun is covered.

Do you have any favorite books about immigrants? Any stories of your own to tell? One of these days I will travel to southern Utah where my grandma’s grandparents pioneered in the frontier.

Disclaimer: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are entirely my own. To read more discussion about A Good American, visit the BlogHer Book Club page.

14 Responses to “A Good American – Alex George”

  1. Don’t tell Lisa, but I’m the same way.

    Well, I’ll read the description to see if I want to read the book, but I won’t read it again before I start it. So, it could be a couple of years between reading the description and reading the book. So I forget things. I can’t stand having any spoilers before I read a book though, and I’ve seen spoilers in descriptions!

    Anyhoo, about the book. Yes, the cover doesn’t make much sense, does it? I like the hardback cover better. And I agree, the writing was wonderful. I had forgotten how much I love these epic family stories though; it has been so long since I’ve read one!

    I’m lucky, I live pretty much where my Irish ancestors settled. I have seen my great-great-grandfathers (that’s plural, I’ve seen both!) gravestone. I’ve stood in my (long gone) great-grandparents first log cabin house. I still have a door and some windows from it. History is so cool.

    Wow, hope this wasn’t TL;DR!

  2. I love immigrant stories and I agree it must have been so hard to leave everything you know behind. But so exciting to expect a better life too.

  3. I try not to read the summaries too, it usually means I enjoy the book more but sometimes you can be surprised as you have. That said sometimes the summaries don’t fit the book at all! Lack of depth can be an issue for me, but from what you’ve said it does sound a good book. Great review, Trish!

  4. Ti

    Your expectations from the title and the cover could have been my own. I’d assume the same thing from looking at that cover.

    I’m glad that in the end, it still worked for you and that you felt it was a good club choice. I’m not sure I could get excited about a book spanning 100 years without some warning.

  5. Yep! Sometimes those pesky pitfalls of not knowing certain aspects of a book rear their ugly heads, but overall I prefer not knowing and will continue to do so. :)

  6. You and Heather are crazycakes. You liked it a lot more than I did, I think. I didn’t DISlike it, and I’m still going to go back to those two scenes to re-read, but eh, not my type of book. I really wanted to FEEL the music, and thought it might be going there, but it didn’t.

  7. This was an interesting experience for me. I’m like you in that I don’t know much or anything about a book before diving in. It was much different that I expected it to be as well. I didn’t realize it was an epic novel. I also had a similar experience in that I loved Jette and Frederick, and felt a loss in the second part of the novel.

  8. I’ve always been fascinated by these stories, as leaving everything behind is difficult enough, but at that time they knew they might never ever see the country they were leaving ever again.
    But alas, family sagas spanning several generations are not for me, I never had the taste for it – and feel cheated when I get to know characters and poof we get to the next generation.

  9. My favorite immigrant story is probably my grandmother’s but you won’t find it written anywhere. I’m in awe of people who can leave their home country to make a new life in a different culture. I have a feeling I’d like this book.

  10. This has been on my wish list for ages and sounds like a story I would love! The first immigrant story that popped into my mind is Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (probably because you mentioned wonderful writing) – quite, but lovely.

  11. Well, Lisa did read the blurb and liked this one even less than you did so I’m not sure knowing what you were getting into really would have helped! I’m honestly glad to see that neither you nor she loved, loved this book because those were the only kinds of reviews I was seeing before. That always makes me more nervous about a book because I find it hard to believe that EVERYONE would love the same book.

  12. Les

    Oh, dear. You didn’t love it and neither did Lisa. Hmmm. Beautiful writing, though, eh? That’s exactly what Nancy (Bookfool) said. I read a hundred pages or so and gave up, but now I’m wondering if I should give it another chance. I sure do like the cover art for the paperback, but it doesn’t really fit the book, does it? I’m just like Heather. She said, “Well, I’ll read the description to see if I want to read the book, but I won’t read it again before I start it. So, it could be a couple of years between reading the description and reading the book. So I forget things. I can’t stand having any spoilers before I read a book though, and I’ve seen spoilers in descriptions!” Yup! Me, too!