Sunday, June 12, 2011

My New American Life by Francine Prose

A young Albanian immigrant cannot believe these crazy Americans, their optimism and their luck

This novel is the story of the first person Albanian narrator, Zula, acerbic and hopeful, as she tries to figure out America and get what she needs.  It reminded me very much of Rose Tremain’s novel The Road Home, which was also a novel about Eastern Europeans illegally immigrating to a trendy Western capital, but this book is less artistically realized, more winking, a satire instead of Tremain’s deeply felt character study. Here, the colorful Albanians are contrasted with the earnest do-gooding rich Americans, Zeke and Mister Stanley and crazy Ginger and the wonderfully vivid Don Settebello. He was the only character that really felt alive, even more so than Zula.

The novel felt a little overplotted but undercharacterized with an overreliance on overdone characters, such as the monosyllabic teen, the Albanian goons– nobody here surprises the reader but plays true to type.

The writing was very good with sprightly descriptive sentences, and very well constructed scenes. Finally, it’s legitimately funny. The novel zips right along and is a pleasant read as it quietly comments on the US government’s policy in Guantanamo, the public’s fear of Muslims, American ignorance and innocence, suburbia, school shootings, avaricious women (of which Lula can’t quite bring herself to be.)

The climactic scene isn’t really earned (though almost). The end works, I think, unsettling, a bit scary,but things always work out ok for our kooky heroine. In America!

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