A Good American
George, an Englishman now living in Columbia, Missouri, has written an absolutely beautiful book about one immigrant family’s experience in America. Spanning almost one hundred years, from the turn of the 20th century to the turn of the 21st century, this book is both a saga and a series of discrete, always fascinating, stories.
Frederick and Jette Meisenheimer emigrate from Germany to the United States in 1904. Jette is pregnant and disowned by her parents. They have their sights set on a job for Frederick in Rocheport, Missouri, but babies come when they want to come, and Jette gives birth in Beatrice, Missouri, and that settles the destiny for the Meisenheimer family. Beatrice residents they shall be, and their story, their children’s story, and their grandchildren’s story are all lovingly recounted by their grandson, James.
Through each generation, various truths are illustrated, but never in a ham-fisted way. Frederick, a gregarious man with a love of music, finds himself fighting anti-German sentiment during World War I. The Great Depression takes its toll through foreclosures and suicides. African-American family friend Lomax encounters small-town racism with devastating results. And yet, the overall tone of the book remains buoyant. James is self-deprecating about his quiet life as his brothers, Freddy, the eldest, and Teddy and Franklin, the twins, seem to live more interesting lives. But James underestimates himself. His clear-eyed view of his family, his relationship with his Aunt Rosa, and how he handles himself when he learns a long-hidden family secret are testaments to his character. This is a tale to savor and then reread and reread again. It’s just that good.