Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Amy Einhorn Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
From the very first line ("Always, there was music") to the very last, Alex George's A Good American had my heart in its hands. It still does.
Here's the publisher's summary.
An uplifting novel about the families we create and the places we call home.All Americans (except Native Americans) were once immigrants. For some of us, the path to becoming a good American is still fresh, is still told at family gatherings. We have black-and-white photos of grandparents and great-aunts—hand over heart, posed in front of a flag—taken on the day of their citizenship. Alex George's A Good American is their story . . . and our story.
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.
George has crafted the near-perfect novel. It's an immensely emotional tale in which the characters become a part of your life. You cry over the Meisenheimer family's tragedies, you chuckle at their foibles, and you are shocked at their secrets. You want to eat in the family's restaurant (speakeasy, diner), and you want to listen to their music (jazz, blues, jukebox). In fact, you already know the Meisenheimers because A Good American is the true story of our country in the twentieth century. It's about the journey from Europe to the United States, from being poor to doing okay, from being constrained by old ways to having the freedom to choose.
A Good American is likely the best book I'll read in 2012. Don't just take my word, here are some other opinions (click for the full reviews):
- 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."
- Michael Magras of Many Thrones, One Pretender: "The novel is a showcase not just for George’s obvious passion for music—in a lovely phrase, he refers to the blues as “the cracked holler of remorse”—but for his encyclopedic knowledge of it."
- Alabama Booksmith: "Every staff member at The Alabama Booksmith has read or is reading this amazing book, and Jake has already gone on record as stating that 'This is the best book I’ve read in years.' "
A Good American is an Indie Next Pick for February. To learn more about Alex George, visit his website or Facebook page or follow him on Twitter. Book clubs and other readers will want to see the reading guide, available on the publisher's website.
Amy Einhorn Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010, or click the Amy Einhorn tab below my banner photo. To join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge, click the link.