A Good American is the beautiful tale of Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer, their immigration from Germany to the small town of Beatrice, Missouri, and the lives of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Alex George has such a wonderful ability to make music out of the English language, that it isn’t surprising at all that the novel revolved around music of all kinds. The descriptions of jazz and barbershop were so perfectly composed that I could actually hear the music as I read. The first scene, in which he describes the very musical meeting of Frederick and Jette, pulled me right in and I couldn’t wait to find out the rest of the story.
“In the end he had chosen to ambush her with an aria, “Che gelida manina,” from Puccini’s opera La Boheme. The opening lines translate as “Your tiny hand is frozen”—not especially appropriate, given that Jette’s hands were not, even by the most charitable standards, tiny; they were also rather clammy, due to the unseasonably warm weather. Still, Frederick knew what he was doing. When he had finished his song, he stepped out from behind the hedge and thrust a concoction of lupins, dahlias, and pansies into Jette’s (big, sweaty) hands. By then, caught squarely in the crosshairs of Puccini’s gorgeous melody, she was helpless.”
Regular readers of my blog will know that I adore Puccini (I named my dog after him, after all!) and opera. How could I not love a book that starts like this?
And I did love it. In fact, I gave it five stars, which I only reserve for books that change me. And the Meisenheimers did just that. The story of Frederick and Jette's family is an opera unto itself: It is as epic as Wagner, as funny as Rossini, and as tragic as Verdi. But most of all, it possesses all of the gorgeous melody of Puccini.