The immigrant experience as seen through the eyes of those who settled in America's heartland is the honest and delightful story Alex George tells in A Good American.
Most Americans are immigrants or descended from them. This universal experience grounds George's debut in sentiment and nostalgia relatable to many.
A Good American starts in 1904 in Germany, where Frederick Meisenheimer and Jette Furste, a lovelorn couple, decide to flee to New York after Jette is disowned by her family for getting pregnant.
They hop the first steamer not realizing it's headed to New Orleans. From the coastal Louisiana city, they head north to Missouri, where Frederick hopes to find work.
They settle in Beatrice, Mo., where generations of the Meisenheimer family will flourish and fulfill the proverbial American dream.
Like most immigrants of that time, Frederick turned his back on Europe and "looked ahead into the bright lights of the young century."
Those lights shine brightly on four generations of his family in George's novel.
Like all families, they have memorable characters — Frederick's grandsons, who form a barbershop quartet; grandson James, inspired by P.G. Wodehouse, who yearns to be a writer; his aunt Rosa, who's a chess whiz.
What makes this epic and lyrical novel's characters so compelling is not so much their uniqueness as the ordinariness of their lives. And through good times and bad, we watch as they walk through history. World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II come alive as does their All-American yearning to pursue a life abundant with happiness.
Music is a hallmark of this novel, too — through the songs coming out of the radio, to the ballads and blues sung in the family restaurant, to the arias Frederick's son Joseph sings to woo his wife. Do you hear me, Broadway? This story would make a delightful musical.
Readers also will be moved by this novelist's personal story. George was born in Great Britain but now lives in Missouri. Sometime soon, he'll be sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America.