July 16, 2014 – Notes

 In attendance:

Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Meta Pitrelli, , Sharon Rome, Donna Sabetta, Tina Segali, Marilyn Sinisi, Jeri Stangl, Joan Swensen.

Missing:  Cathy Quinn, Barbara Santillo.

Book & Author: A Good American, by Alex George.


  • In Barbara’s absence, someone had to start the conversation. Tina suggested that much of the action in the book revolved around sex. Jette’s unmarried pregnancy caused the couple to leave Germany; the music teacher married to the dwarf had sex with many of her pupils; our narrator was the result of an unmarried pregnancy; Frank marries his twin brother’s girlfriend because he got her pregnant. It was noted that the situation for women was much different today.
  • Jeri described a photograph of her grandparents’ wedding in which her grandmother is wearing black. The backstory was fascinating and everyone was speculating on why she had worn black. The predominating feeling was that she might have been pregnant or in some other way considered to be a “fallen” woman.
  • It was noted how the family followed a typical immigrant trajectory. Initially they were very German but became more “American” as time went on.
  • The issue of race relations arose, centered on how the townsfolk gossiped about Jette’s friendship with Lomax. Many in the group thought they were more than friends.
  • Questions were raised about the character of Jette. Did she have a low opinion of men? How close a relationship did she ever have with her mother, her children? Why was she so stubborn that she wouldn’t open any of Frederick’s letters? Why did her disappointment with Frederick spill over to her treatment of the kids? (She walked out before Joseph was to sing.)
  • It was noted that there were several odd characters in the novel: the young man with gigantism who eventually dies of the disease; Lomax; the woman who married the dwarf.
  • There was speculation about why James never leaves the town of Beatrice. This led to a discussion of provincialism, of how people can stay in the same place for generations and never see beyond their small borders.
  • Lois pointed out the difference between the illustrations in the hard and soft cover versions of the book. The soft cover showed letters and a cornet case (which looked a bit like a regular old suitcase), perhaps more commercially appealing than the cornet with the musical notes coming out of it.
  • The issue of assimilation was a hot topic. Jeri explained the differences between a “melting pot” and a “salad bown.” This led to a discussion of bilingualism and the different approaches to language acquisition. (Jeri mentioned that Snow Falling on Cedar is a great book on assimilation.)
  • A question was raised about what constitutes “a good American.” Lois talked about how she was taunted by schoolmates for her German last name in postwar North Bergen.

All enjoyed salads before the ever-popular pizza. Sharon once again wowed the women with two delicious treats: lemonball cookies and a blueberry cake. Candles were lit up on Tina’s red velvet cake to celebrate Joan’s 75th birthday. As the Romans used to say, tempus fugit.  (Thank you, Mr. Dorso).

The book earned a 3.0 rating.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, August 20, 5:00 p.m., at Joan’s house. Lois chose the next selection: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Please check with Liz regarding food assignments.

If, miraculously, you finish The Goldfinch early, get a head start on the September 10 book, chosen by Jeri: Waiting for Snow in Havana, by Carlos Eire. It won the National Book Award for non-fiction in 2003.

Submitted by Tina Segali

July 17, 2014