Monday, February 4, 2013

A Good American by Alex George — Audiobook Review

Recorded by Penguin Audiobooks
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.

26 comments:

Mary (Bookfan) said...

Sounds good, Heather. I noticed Goodreads has a giveaway going through Feb. 5. I like that you became attached to the family. A sign of a great story.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds really good. You are really tackling a lot of audios lately - enjoy

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like the kind of book I love. It sounds like you were really invested in the characters and the story.

Book Dilettante said...

Wish I had time to listen to audio books, especially this interesting one. Nice review.

Darlene said...

I didn't read through your review, only read the end since you recommended this to me and I did pick it up. It's second on my list of audio listens so I'll be back after I listen to it. Glad you loved it so much.

bibliosue said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this book! I loved it, and can imagine it is fantastic on audio.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've had this audio forever, and I'm wondering I have yet to even load it on to my iPod. I do love the multigenerational stories.

Suko said...

I love your description of the book as a "beautiful aria, full of crescendos and declines". Another stellar review!

Athira said...

I've heard a lot about this book and I need to make the time to read it. Glad that you enjoyed it!

Brooke said...

Wanted to read this one for so long! I love family sagas. They always give me such awesome perspective when thinking about and dealing with my own familial issues.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I too love good multigenerational stories. Great for winter reading!

Stacy at The Novel Life said...

this one sounds epic and oh so great! I love that you felt this author gave enough time to each of the characters to really bring them to life ~ it truly makes a difference in the overall reading experience. Excellent review as always my dear!

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I really enjoyed this one. I'm glad you liked it too. Great review!

Amy Meyer said...

Sadly I forgot about this book so thank you for reminding me that this is a book I was very interested in. Even more so now after reading your delightful review. Once again you have me thinking strongly about trying the audio version especially since it sounds like you almost bonded with the family given that Gibson Frazier does such a good job as James. Whichever medium I choose, this family saga is definitely one I don't want to miss!

Audra said...

Great review -- I hadn't heard of this one but I'm in love -- it sounds marvelous. Adding to the TBR now.

Vasilly said...

You make almost every book you read sound amazing!

Marie said...

This sounds wonderful! I love big sagas and you make this book sound like it's right up my alley!

bkclubcare said...

I've wanted to read this like forever! Question for you, how was BEATRICE pronounced? Just curious because my inlaws live in Beatrice Nebraska and I don't think Missouri has such a town. Not important but it is just one more reason I think I might want to try this audio-style.

Lisa said...

I almost picked this one up the other day (actual book) but now I'm kind of glad I didn't. I'm going to hold out for the audio version - sounds like a lovely one to listen to!

Aarti said...

I love that both of us have gotten much heaver into the audiobooks in recent months - glad to know this one succeeds in that format. Great review, as always :-)

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I love your thoughtful reviews. This one is new to me but it sounds terrific.

Teddy Rose said...

What a wonderful review. This sounds like a book I would love! You just added another book to my TBR.

Marg said...

I really loved this book when I read it last year, and I can see how it would lend itself to an audio book performance!

geosireads said...

The title peaks my interest, though I'm not good at audio book, I should try this someday. Thanks.

Harvee Lau said...

A great book for the Immigrant Reading Challenge Wonderfully detailed and revealing review.

Jenny said...

I've been wanting to read this one for a long time but wasn't sure how it would be. I'm really glad to hear how much you enjoyed it because that confirms for me I need to read this one. I saw the paperback just came out too.

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