Narrated by Gibson Frazier
Length: 11 hours 27 minutes
The Meisenheimer clan didn’t originate in Beatrice, Missouri, but in war-torn Germany, where their flight to America began. Jetta, a tall and handsome woman, was already pregnant with her first child when she and her new husband, Frederick, boarded the ship that would take them to the land of opportunity and freedom. And though Missouri was not their chosen arrival spot, it was the place that their son, Joseph, was born, and where they decided to put down roots that would extend into a beautiful and crowded family tree. Frederick and Jetta’s story, and indeed the story of the whole family, is narrated here by their grandson James. From their first ventures into capitalism with the christening of their own unusual restaurant to the stories of Jetta’s two children, who are born, grow, and take spouses, to the early 50s when James and his two brothers are born, Alex George tells the story of a family with unusually deep bonds, and music in their very souls. At times funny, and often tragic, A Good American takes the immigrant story and does what no other writer manages to do: examine each member of the family with a microscopic and heartfelt lens. Trials. Tragedies. Redemption. All are here for the taking, both gleefully and sorrowfully recounted as the family’s fortunes both publically and privately wax and wane. Both original and colorful, these are the Meisenheimers: temperamental and mischievous, loyal and diffident, but at their core, good Americans.
This book has garnered many awards and the love of many readers. I would have to agree with all who have lauded it and say that it was one of the most interesting and entertaining audiobooks that I’ve listened to in a very long time. The audio version is narrated by Gibson Frazier, who is the voice of James, a third generation Meisenheimer. Frazier is an excellent narrator for this tale, wry and witty when the narrative commands it, and somber and reflective when things for the family go awry. I grew to think of him as James, his voice and inflection embodying the young man so perfectly that the book almost felt like a family biography. In fact, my husband asked me if this was a true story as I was listening.
When Frederick and Jetta step onto the boat that will take them to America, they are headed for New Orleans, the home of jazz. But due to Jetta’s advanced pregnancy, they are waylaid in Missouri, where Frederick sees kindness and attentiveness in all the people he encounters in the town. The decision is made to stay and the lives of the couple begin to flourish in ways they would have never imagined. The birth of two healthy children in Missouri is Yetta’s dream, but Frederick has a passion for music and entrepreneurship in equal measure, and soon the family is embarking on new and exciting paths that allow Frederick’s passions to be explored fully. It’s humbling to see how the family that arrived with nothing slowly climbs the ladder of success, becoming a fixture of the town that graciously welcomed them with open arms.
Frederick and Jetta’s two children, Joseph and Rosa, couldn’t be more different. Joseph wants to follow in his father’s footsteps, but Rosa is rather bookish and studious. Through the voice of James, the listener hears all about the foibles and triumphs of the family, the brush with racism that tears a schism in the town, and their eventual turn to a new type of business. This tale is told with humor and love, and the author doesn’t for a moment forget that the reader is connecting more and more deeply with the Meisenheimers as the chapters plow ahead. But there are secrets deeply buried in the family’s closet that will take years to escape, and amid the laughter, there is terrible guilt and regret.
The years that recount James and his brothers’ life stories was a particularly engrossing section for me. I’m not sure if this was because these sections were more current and I could relate to them a little more, or because this was when the tale truly came alive for me and the heartbreak and laughter became deeper and more mature. What I loved about this book is that no detail was spared; Every character and situation got their own time to shine and then fade into the background. I also loved that the tale didn’t end, per se. It left the reader looking forward into the new generation and revealed long-held nuggets of wisdom and secrecy. I was so fond of this family that I became a little bereft when the tale was finished and Frazier uttered his last line.
For those readers who love multigenerational sagas that have an equal measure of humor and heartache, this is a natural winner. There aren’t an overabundance of characters to keep straight and the author does a great job of plotting the whole story so that it feels like a beautiful aria, full of crescendos and declines. I loved this book, and feel that many others will too—not only for its readability and perfect pacing, but for the way the characters cling to your heartstrings long after you’ve listened to the final chapter. Highly recommended.
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.