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My New American Life: A Novel [Hardcover]

Francine Prose
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book by Prose, Francine

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Francine Prose: My new American Life. Sept. 15 2013
By Hana
Francine Prose is an excellent writer. She is truthful, observant, doesn't try to be politically correct and she is up-to-date.
She knows much not only about America, but also about the countries where the political refugees came from. Even though a worse author could have given way to a comparison between countries, coming to the conclusion that everywhere bread has only two crusts, Prose understands the main differences; the down-to-earth common sense, as well as the "brain-washing" of an immigrant, and on the other hand, sometimes the naivete of the Americans.
Someone has to record the society, the atmosphere, the beliefs, the mistakes.
This authoress is very entertaining and reading her is always an event for a reader.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prose offers fresh insights into contemporary American life that allow us to see ourselves with fresh, unblinking eyes May 18 2011
By Bookreporter - Published on
Temporarily submerged by our economic woes, the debate over immigration policy simmers just below the surface of American political and social life. In her lighthearted, consistently engaging new novel, Francine Prose tells the story of Lula, a savvy 26-year-old Albanian newcomer trying to gain a foothold in a country that at times seems as strange as her bizarre native land.

It's October 2005, a low point of the Bush presidency, with others as yet unimagined, ahead. Half-Muslim, half-Christian Lula has just secured her work permit, a glimpse of her green card glittering on the horizon. She's situated uneasily in a sterile New Jersey McMansion 10 miles from Manhattan. Its owner, Stanley Larch ("Mister Stanley" to Lula), is a former economics professor turned disgruntled Wall Street banker. He's hired her to keep an eye on Zeke, his sullen, vampire-obsessed teenage son whose taste in attire runs to black and body piercings. Their wife and mother, Ginger, abandoned the family for the Norwegian fjords ("she wanted to start over, somewhere clean and white") the previous Christmas Eve, suffering from something her husband vaguely describes as "mental health issues." Hearing what sounds like sobbing from Mister Stanley's room one night, she wonders, "Who wouldn't cry? No wife, no fun, no girlfriends, a job he hated, a son who seemed to despise him."

Out of boredom, Lula turns to writing stories based on Albanian folk legends she reshapes into magical realist-inflected tales about her family's life that Mister Stanley naively believes demonstrate real literary talent. But Lula's quotidian existence is disrupted when three young Albanian men she nicknames the "Cute One," "Hoodie" and "Leather Jacket," appear at the Larch residence in a black Lexus SUV. She's attracted to Alvo ("the Cute One") who has been in the country since 1990 and claims vaguely to be working "renovating supermarkets." Her feelings oscillate between desire for him and the sense she's dealing with a character whose danger hasn't yet fully revealed itself. Though Alvo and his companions inject a note of menace into the story, it never rises to a level where we fear any serious harm will befall Prose's likable characters. The one scene of near violence, involving Lula, Alvo and the hapless Ginger Larch, is played mostly for comic effect.

Mister Stanley's good friend and Lula's attorney is Don Settebello, an immigration lawyer who blends a highly successful practice with an idealistic streak that has him representing Guantanamo detainees, bitterly complaining all the while of their mistreatment. He's the voice of what Prose suggests is the fading American conscience, suppressed by lingering fears of terrorist attacks, real or imagined.

Contrasted with Lula's life is the one her Albanian comrade Dunia has fashioned on American soil. Lula discovers her that friend hasn't been kidnapped and sold into Asian sex slavery, as she had feared. Instead, she has landed herself a husband (a New Jersey plastic surgeon named Steve) and has settled with alacrity into the role of the jaded suburban housewife ("It's like living under Communism. The shopping is better. The sex is worse."). Their trip to the Short Hills Mall to outfit Lula for a Christmas Eve date with Alvo is a sharp send-up of American consumerism. Prose's satiric gifts are put to equally fine use in her portrayal of the obligatory upper middle-class parent/child college tour and in the scenes of Lula's encounter with the more Dickensian aspects of our criminal justice system.

Some of the purest pleasures of Prose's novel are Lula's sharp insights into our contemporary life. "But America was like Communism and post-Communism combined," she remarks. "You weren't supposed to be materialistic until you got successful, after which it was practically your duty to flaunt it in everyone's face." Commenting on the contrast between a Congressman confessing an adulterous affair and the president denying reports of torture in Iraq, she notes, "It was interesting how everyone lied and only the adulterers got caught." With her sly wit, Prose holds a mirror up to both our shortcomings and our occasionally endearing oddities, giving us an opportunity to see ourselves with fresh, unblinking eyes.

Prose's novel is anything but the classic immigrant saga. But what unites Lula's story with those is her ample tool kit of survival skills, her determination to succeed in her adopted homeland, and her optimism that tomorrow and the day after that will be better than today. Those personality traits make her an appealing protagonist and her story one of unalloyed enjoyment.

--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A funny satire with memorable characters May 11 2011
By Diane - Published on
My New American Life is whip-smart funny. Satire is not always easy to pull off on the written page , and Prose does it amazingly well. Her writing, especially of Lula's thoughts, had me cracking up, like this one:
"Lula knew that some Americans cheered every time INS agents raided factories and shoved dark little chicken-packagers into the backs of trucks. 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."

Lula wants desperately to grab a hold of the American dream, but her job as a nanny to an 17-year-old young man leaves her bored and stuck in the suburbs with no friends and nothing to do. Prose makes you feel her stifling suffocation. When the wanna-be Sopranos Albanians show up and ask her to "hold on to" a gun for them, Lula does as she's asked, even though she knows this could lead to trouble for her and her employer and her deportation. Yet, strangely, she cannot say no to them; and besides, it's a little excitement.

I usually identify with at least one of the characters in a novel that I read, but I could not identify with anyone in this book, yet that did not stop me from enjoying it. I live in New York City, a city that runs because of its immigrant population, and this book gave me a new perspective on the people who leave their families behind to start a new life elsewhere.

Lula misses her homeland; she cries
"for her once-beautiful homeland now in the hands of toxic dumpers and sex traffickers and money launderers. She cried for missing her country, for not missing it, for having nothing to miss. She cried for the loneliness and uncertainty of her life among strangers who could still change her mind and make her go home."

All of the characters are interesting: sad sacks Mister Stanley and his friend Don (both divorced and lost), young Zeke (I just wanted to hug him and tell him it will be all right), the Albanians (a riot!) and Lula's friend Dunia, who hits the immigrant lottery by finding a rich man to marry.

There are so many fantastic scenes- at the restaurant where Lula gets a celebratory citizenship dinner with Zeke, his dad, Don and his caustic daughter, Lula's date with Alvo, the college trip- all are sharp and memorable.

Prose successfully combines the comic and the tragic, and throws in some politics, like Don's work with detainees at Guantanemo. Her portrait of American life soon after 9/11 (through Lula's eyes) is vivid and thought-provoking.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Finish This Book July 27 2012
By Michael J. Kopp - Published on
I really tried to like this book. I really tried to care about the characters. Unfortunately, this story of an newcomer's view of American life offered few new insights to me and just wasn't very engaging. The American father and his slacker son were two dimensional and trite. The details about Albania were the only interesting elements of the book. The parts about Lula's love life and her agonizing about her crush on the bad boy were beyond dull. Perhaps I was just the wrong audience for this book. I really expected more but was very disappointed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial and disappointing Nov. 2 2013
By Julia Spiegelman - Published on
I was looking forward to an intelligent, thoughtful novel and was disappointed to find the opposite. While it was an easy read, and I did finish it (though tempted several times to stop mid-way), I found the main character particularly superficial and dense, in a way that is not reflected as ironic or even intentional by the narrative. Lula continues to lie and learns nothing, and continues unapologetically and selfishly into her future. Even moments that could be truly emotionally charged are not; the story is told flatly, with little indication that its characters are more than cardboard cutouts. If this is intended to be satire, or irony, it is poorly pulled off.

I was also disturbed by some vaguely homophobic comments throughout the book, such as Lula's unchallenged assumption that 20 years in prison would turn a defendant gay. While I did enjoy the glimpse into Lula's world, and the difficulty of her position as a young, not-yet-greencarded Albanian woman, I did not find that the book brought me to any understanding beyond stereotype. Very disappointing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Really Good Books of 2011 Jan. 8 2012
By Joseph Landes - Published on
I just finished Francine Prose's latest book "My New American Life" and was sad to have the story come to an end. In fact, it felt like one of those books that could have gone on and on for another few hundred pages and I would have kept reading just as voraciously. The story is about a young woman named Lula who hailes from Albania and is in the US illegally working for a man named Mister Stanley taking care of his son Zeke who at age 17 is clearly too old for a nanny who seems to be just a few years older than he is. Her job at face value is focused on "cooking" him dinners of frozen pizza and mizing margaritas but in truth it is more a story of companionship after Zeke's mom went crazy and left the family one year back. The book is incredibly funny and sarcastic to the point where I was laughing out loud while reading the book on an airplane. It is a good look into the somewhat friendly relationship between the US and Albania during George Bush's most recent term. A very good book that was named a NY Times Notable Book of 2011.
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