Thursday, March 24, 2011

more reading fun....My New American Life: A Novel by Francine Prose

I confess...there's a lot rattling around in my head but I'm having a hard time putting it into words and really want to put something other than a bullet-point post.  A book review isn't quite what I'm itching to write, but you're getting one anyway since it will let me move the finished book from one pile to another.  Yes, I'm weird.

My New American Life: A Novel by Francine Prose is one I might have actually picked up on my own.  Actually, I'd have hesitated since I have a bias against authors with more than two or three novels under their belt so it is cool that this is one of the books that I got as an advance copy from Harper. 

The book's main character is Lula, an immigrant from Albania.  We find her working for a well-to-do man in the NYC suburbs as a caretaker for his son who is 17 and really doesn't need any care (Mom has left due to mental issues).  The father has also hooked Lula up with a lawyer to work on getting her legal status.  In both the legal world and in general, Lula tends to tell stories that people would expect...they aren't true (or happened generations ago) but they conform to American assumptions about life in other nations and playing on these stereotypes gets Lula sympathy and seems like a bit of amusement for her as well. 

Early on in the novel, Lula's very routine life is interrupted by three Albanian men showing up and asking her to hide a gun for them. This ramps up the cultural undercurrents of the novel that look at loyalty and the similarities and differences between the US and nations we assume are worlds away.  The home life of Lula's employer provides further evidence of the theme that things are rarely as they appear or as we'd assume.

I enjoyed the book.  I'd likely put it at 3.5 stars but it gave me enough to think about that I am fine rounding up to four (of five...goodreads and amazon use five stars and don't allow half-stars).  At times, I got frustrated with Lula.  I also disliked some of the overdone plot twists and mini storylines (the son's bizarre visit to a college seemed like a random short story the author just felt like inserting).  But it was generally a fun and thought-provoking read without ever becoming preachy (a fault shared by many books that take a critical eye to modern America).

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