I should also add that this book has another meaning for me. In my book group at work--which consists of fellow employees meeting once a month to just talk about books--we decided to start off this year by putting a title in a "hat" that we wanted someone else in the group to read this year. It could be any title you wanted. We all had a bit of a time, since talking about books to each other means most of the time many of us have read the same books. But, I was lucky--so very lucky!--to pick this title out of the "hat". It just so happened to have been released in paperback that week, so I quickly bought it and dived in this week while on vacation.
What can I say about this novel? It starts out with Frederick and Jette; living in Germany, and falling in love. Their passion gets the best of them, and they soon must flee a disapproving mother and quickly board a ship bound for New Orleans. It was the only ship leaving for America quickly, and time was of the essence. Jette is 7 months pregnant, and the trip is very taxing on her. They have very little money, the clothes on their backs, and no plan of what they will do once they arrive in New Orleans. And neither speaks a lick of English. It is 1905 and the world is wide open.
The story continues as Frederick, with his magical singing voice, and Jette, feeling completely homesick, learn to find their way in America, ending up in Beatrice, Missouri. Jette's giving birth helps them decide where they will stay.
The rest of the novel follows the generations of the Meisenheimers as they live, love, and work in Beatrice. Frederick's absolute love and gratitude towards America sets the tone for the sacrifices, opportunities, and tragedies that follow Frederick, Jette, and their children.
It truly is a wonderful novel. I was quickly sucked in, and couldn't put it down. I always find it amazing that people will leave all they know for a complete unknown place--and so many millions did it to come to America and start a new life. The courage that takes is astounding to me--someone who doesn't like driving in a city where I'm unfamiliar with the roads. I feel like a complete wimp!
This book will certainly be a top ten read for me this year, and it's so early in the year! But I can't help it. It is one of those novels that you hate to finish.
Thanks to Kirk! for recommending this book to me. I never read it in hardcover, and am so glad I finally picked it up in paperback. Most definitely will be a staff recommends title for me at the bookstore. And a staple for my book talks in the next few months.
Rating: 9/10; wonderful characters that experience the same growing pains as America does from the early 1900's through the 1960's; written with just the right touches of humor and sadness that make this novel so unforgettable.
Available in paperback, hardcover and as an e-book. Also has a book club discussion guide at the end of the paperback. I would strongly suggest this as a book club read!