My New American Life by Francine Prose
Release date: 2011 / 320 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon): Lula, a twenty-six-year-old Albanian woman living surreptitiously in New York City on an expiring tourist visa, hopes to make a better life for herself in America. When she lands a job as caretaker to Zeke, a rebellious high school senior in suburban New Jersey, it seems that the security, comfort, and happiness of the American dream may finally be within reach. Her new boss, Mister Stanley, an idealistic college professor turned Wall Street executive, assumes that Lula is a destitute refugee of the Balkan wars. He enlists his childhood friend Don Settebello, a hotshot lawyer who prides himself on defending political underdogs, to straighten out Lula’s legal situation. In true American fashion, everyone gets what he wants and feels good about it… [until] things take a more sinister turn when Lula’s Albanian “brothers” show up in a brand-new black Lexus SUV.
This is the third book I’ve read in the past month that has addressed immigration — this trend is completely accidental, but also serendipitous since I now live near a Sanctuary City and have become fascinated by the complexities of this topic.
I must admit, this novel was a “slow starter” for me, but I received it just last week so I had no choice but to stick with it right away. I have little knowledge of Albania — where Lula, the protagonist, was born — and Prose’s writing felt a bit stilted — intentionally, I believe, since Lula’s first language was not English.
However, within 50 or so pages, I found myself drawn to her story and the strange events that were unfolding. I was in the same position as her employer and his son — who also knew little about Lula’s home — so her stories, albeit outrageous at times, were received in the same spirit by all of the hapless Americans in her orbit — including this reader! After I finished the novel, I read the “Behind the Book” resource included at the end and learned the author traveled to Albania and even had dinner with Albanian political criminals as research. So, although the stories seemed extreme at times, I can’t help but wonder if Lula’s stories were not so outlandish after all.
This novel was inspired by a story the author heard about a young woman who was taught to drive by Albanian gangsters who drove her to the George Washington bridge, turned the wheel over to her, and insisted she drive. This is where this novel ends, with Lula somehow finding the courage and wherewithal to create a new life in her new country.
Prose is masterful at creating atmosphere — the stultifying setting of Mister Stanley and Zeke’s home after Ginger, the woman of the house, abandoned them on Christmas Eve is palpable and the perfect backdrop for Lula’s imaginative stories and strange visitors. And even though Prose leaves a few loose ends (how did the trio of Albanian thugs find Lula in the first place? Why did Savitra suddenly get married? Most of Dunia’s entire life in the U.S…), her take on American life and ability to create compelling characters is worth the ride.
Here are a few of her observations that I found particularly enjoyable:
“She’d seen the guys on Fox News calling for every immigrant except German supermodels and Japanese baseball players to be deported, no questions asked.”
“Mostly, in her experience, country was like religion, an excuse to hate other people and feel righteous about it.”
Interested in winning a copy? Simply leave me a comment below and I will choose a winner shortly!
Thursday, May 17th: Bookstack
Monday, May 21st: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, May 24th: My Bookshelf
Monday, May 28th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, May 29th: Books and Movies
Wednesday, May 30th: Veronica M.D.
Tuesday, June 5th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Wednesday, June 6th: Reviews By Lola
Thursday, June 7th: I Read. Do you?
Tuesday, June 12th: Chocolate & Croissants
Thursday, June 14th: Literate Housewife