A GOOD AMERICAN

An attorney originally from England, first-time novelist George offers a love song to his adopted state of Missouri in this multigenerational saga of the Meisenheimers from their arrival as German immigrants in 1904 up to the present.

Frederick and already pregnant Jette marry on board the boat that brings them to New Orleans, where they immediately experience the kindness of strangers from a Polish Jew and an African-American cornet player. Large, easygoing Frederick immediately falls in love with America. Jette, who instigated their flight, finds herself homesick for the world she wanted to escape. They settle in Beatrice, a small Missouri farming town with many German immigrants, where their baby Joseph is born. A few years later comes his sister Rosa. Frederick opens a bar that thrives, but his marriage to Jette falters. When the United States enters World War I, Frederick enlists—George only glancingly touches the uncomfortable irony that Frederick is fighting against Germans when he is killed—so Jette takes over the bar. Prohibition arrives in 1920, and so does Lomax, the black cornet player from New Orleans. He helps Jette turn the bar into a restaurant offering a mix of German and Cajun specialties and becomes a surrogate father to Rosa and Joseph. But Lomax, who is doing a little bootlegging on the side, ends up murdered, his cornet stolen. Joseph runs the restaurant, now a diner, with Cora. Rosa becomes a spinster teacher. Cora and Joseph have four sons whom Joseph, who inherited Frederick’s love of music, turns into a barbershop quartet. Second son James is the novel’s narrator, and once he starts describing what he actually remembers, the tone changes. The melodramas of James and his brothers’ lives—sexual escapades, religious crises, even the big secret ultimately revealed—are more complicated but less compelling than his parents’ and grandparents’. At times the novel feels like a fictionalized historical catalogue, but there are lovely moments of humor and pathos that show real promise.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-399-15759-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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