Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"My New American Life"

The immigrant novel is a common genre in the United States, and adds new energy to American literature, just as immigrants themselves add new energy to the country. Francine Prose’s new novel, “My New American Life” (Harper, 2011) has elements of the classic immigrant novel, yet with a quirky, original energy of its own. The main character, the one through whose eyes we experience the story, is Lula, a young woman from Albania, now living in New Jersey with her employer, “Mister Stanley,” and his teenaged son, Zeke; since Zeke’s mentally ill mother, Ginger, left the family, Mister Stanley wants someone to oversee and take care of Zeke while Stanley works long hours on Wall Street. Lula meets some seemingly gangster types who are also from Albania, and falls in love –- well, thinks she may have fallen in love -- with one of them, Alvo. There is much mystery and intrigue regarding Alvo. Lula grows fond of Mister Stanley and Zeke, yet feels her life is going nowhere, staying with them in New Jersey. She is very creative, and tells and writes stories about Albania in which she exaggerates and distorts -- OK, lies, sometimes -- and watches bemusedly as those around her welcome and encourage her exotic if unlikely tales. Lula is an original character, funny and realistic and confused and positive, despite attempting to be cynical and negative. She is someone for whom we root, and who will always land on her feet. The novel is energetic, funny, enjoyable to read, and at the same time –- without belaboring the issues –- makes some important points about the lives of new immigrants in the United States.

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