A wonderful novel about becoming Americans

"A Good American" by Alex George, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 400 pages, $25.95.

James Meisenheimer narrates this novel about his grandparents' coming to America in 1904. Henriette Furst, known as Jette, meets Frederick Meisenheimer. Frederick, an orphan who has no money, no family and no future, can't win over her mother.

When Jette becomes pregnant, they flee to America. They get on the first available ship. They wanted to go to New York, but the ship is going to New Orleans. They figure what's the difference? Both are New.

When Jette goes into labor on the journey, they end up in Beatrice, Mo. Frederick always loved singing and gets hired to work in a bar. They have settled in a community of fellow German immigrants. They adapt in different ways. But then America goes to war against Germany.

And as the novel says at the start, "Always, there was music." Frederick and Jette's son, Joseph, courts his wife with arias and reinvents the restaurant as a diner. He has four sons and forms them into a barbershop quartet.

"A Good American" is humorous, tragic and there is a major surprise at the end. There are plenty of quirky characters. This is a true joy to read.

***

"Fraternity" by Diane Brady, Spiegel & Grau, 242 pages, $25.

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Later that month, the Rev. John Brooks, professor of theology at the College of the Holy Cross, recruits black high school students for the college. Among them is Clarence Thomas, who eventually becomes a Supreme Court justice.

The book follows the five young men. It is primarily based on interviews and research and as such has little dialogue. The style is very dry, but it could help young people understand that era.

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