The sprawling narrative of five siblings, born in the 1940’s, beginning on the day John Kennedy was shot and ending on 9/11. Between these two iconic dates, we follow the fortunes, love affairs, marriages, divorces, successes and failures of the Pearls, an immigrant Polish-Jewish family, from the Lower East Side of New York, to Long Island and beyond.
The oldest, Jackie — a charming, womanizing attorney — drifts into politics with help from the Nassau County mob. His younger brother, Michael, a gambler and entrepreneur, makes and loses fortunes riding the ebb and flow of high-risk business decisions. Their sister, Elaine, marries young and raises two children before realizing that she wants more from life than being merely a wife and mother and embarking on a new life in her forties. Their sensitive and brilliant half-brother, Stephen, deals with the growing consciousness that he is gay in an era that was not gay friendly. Stephen goes to Vietnam as a medic, comes home, becomes a writer, and survives the AIDS epidemic of the eighties. The baby of the family, Bobbie, high-strung and rebellious, gets pregnant at Woodstock, moves to San Francisco as a single mother during the “Summer of Love,” then winds up in Los Angeles as a highly-successful record producer.
In a larger sense this book is not merely the story of one family, but the story of most immigrant families – Jewish, Italian, Irish, African-American – as they enter the melting pot and emerge as a new generation, as well as the story of the tumultuous years of the second half of the twentieth century.
Here is the excerpt for the day from this novel:
It was the same thing every year. Nathan would tell everyone how thankful they should be because they didn’t eat meals like this in Poland when he was a boy. After dessert, which was always a pecan pie that Lillian bought at the Safeway—she wasn’t allowed to bake because of Ida’s sacred memory—they would loosen their belts and go into the den to watch football.
To Steven, celebrating Thanksgiving was a sham. It was an American holiday, and they weren’t a real American family. They were Jews, and either they should act like Jews and go to synagogue and celebrate the holidays, or they should stop calling themselves Jews.When he had turned thirteen, Steven had asked his father why he wasn’t having a bar mitzvah, and Nathan had said it was a big expense that they didn’t need right now.
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I love a novel that brings me into the heart of family drama, and An American Family does this for not just a short period of time, but spans at least a fifty year period. We follow the triumphs and trials of this Jewish family taking special note of happenings on the Thanksgiving and Passover Holidays.
Lefcourt did a wonderful job of taking us on a journey with this family, that will help you recall specific things during this time yourself. From a 17" Magnavox television to a cut and a perm costing only six dollars this book is a feast for your memory. Not only are the symbols of the time appreciated, but also the events. We get an up close view of this family as they deal with life-changing events like the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam war, Israeli conflict, and the heart-stopping act of terrorism against our country on 9/11.
I really enjoy how this story was delivered. At the beginning of each chapter we are told what year it is, and then every section within that chapter we are given a personal look at each of the siblings lives. We see Jackie rising to power with his legal career, Michael about to go bankrupt unless his new idea catches on, Elaine getting lost in the life of her marriage, Stephen struggling between who he thinks he should be and who he wants to be, and finally, the free-spirited Bobbi who is continually striving to make it big in the music business.
There is so much for everyone to enjoy in this novel that I know I am only touching on a small portion of how wonderful it is. I also enjoyed the Jewish element of the story as each of the family members struggle with their Jewish ancestry. Nathan, the father, especially battling the demons that remind him how he should have done more to get his family out of Lodz before it was too late.
I enjoyed this book so much with themes of family, love, power, Jewish traditions, and even a touch of Woodstock. I was born in the late 60's, but I believe that someone that was born in the 50's or early 60's would have been even more appreciative of the content. I think this would make a great selection for a book club or even personal leisure. I don't hesitate in recommending this novel.
My Rating: 4/5
Disclosure: This book was provided to me by the media firm that organized this blog tour to provide an honest review.
Note: This book is currently only available to purchase at a very reasonable price as a Kindle e-book at the following link: An American Family