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The UnAmericans: Stories Hardcover – February 3, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In her first story collection, Antopol explores the everyday anxieties and complex past lives of immigrant characters in New York boroughs and Old World homelands, including Kiev, Tel Aviv, and Brooklyn. In “Duck and Cover,” a widowed father struggles to keep secret his involvement with the Communist Party in McCarthy-era Los Angeles, while his daughter discovers her sexuality in a neighbor’s fall-out shelter. In “The Quietest Man,” a former dissident from Czechoslovakia must confront the facts of his estranged daughter’s new play, which he selfishly worries will hurt his reputation. In another story, a grandmother in Queens recounts the questionable ethics of a wartime brigade called the Yiddish Underground, common citizens who fought the Nazi occupation of Jewish communities, such as the sizable “lost shtetl” of Antopol, Belarus. In these stories, Antopol depicts with bold strokes and uncanny intelligence the intimate links between family, history, and politics, never failing to capture the grit and hurt of intergenerational confrontation. Honored as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35, Antopol enters American fiction with startling originality and honesty. --Diego Báez


“Fresh and offbeat… memorable and promising.” (Dwight Garner - New York Times)

“A writer of seismic talent…Not since Robert Stone has a writer so examined the nature of disillusionment and the ways in which newfound hope can crack the cement of failed dreams.” (Adam Johnson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Orphan Master's Son)

“Beautiful, funny, fearless, exquisitely crafted, and truly novelistic in scope…It's clear we're in the hands of a master storyteller—a writer with the emotional heft of Nicole Krauss, the intellectual depth of Saul Bellow, and the penetrating wit of Philip Roth. This book isn’t simply powerful and important—it's necessary.” (Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones)

“Molly Antopol's stories display that wonderful combination of an original voice with settings that are masterfully rendered. A rich collection, a great read.” (Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone)

“A brave, generous, and effortlessly smart story collection by a young writer with talent to burn.” (Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia)

“This is deeply humane fiction, coursing with the heat of a passionate, sympathetic heart.” (Ken Kalfus, author of A Disorder Peculiar to the Country and Equilateral)

“Allegiances are not always what they seem, in these wonderfully engrossing stories of Old- and New-World Jews cast on the sometimes rough waters of history. Molly Antopol is a vivid chronicler of the good intentions and big misapprehensions of her characters, as we intently watch them try to get it right.” (Joan Silber, author of Fools)

“An exceptional collection of wide-ranging, powerful, and nuanced stories…You come away with an ache in your soul for all her people and what they were up against, how they triumphed, how they failed, and how they managed, somehow, to endure.” (Peter Orner, author of Last Car Over the Saramore Bridge and Love and Shame and Love)

“Deeply satisfying stories…morally complex and emotionally instructive.” (Christine Schutt, author of Florida and All Souls)

“[Antopol] draws the reader to her deeply flawed characters [with] their keen self-awareness, and their consequent ability to act with a semblance of moral, sometimes even selfless, integrity.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Antopol accomplishes in each of these stories what would take most writers an entire novel to achieve: a fully imagined world.” (Dara Horn, author of A Guide for the Perplexed)

The Unamericans is poised to be this year's sensation… the layered riches and historical sweep of its stories make them feel grand, like novels writ small.” (Esquire Magazine)

“[A] poised debut.” (Vogue)

“Evoked with uncommon skill and confidence.” (Lauren Waterman - Dujour)

“In a word: Wow!” (New York Journal of Books)

“A smart, empathetic, well-crafted first collection—Antopol is a writer to watch.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Sharply funny and always intelligent, and readers will find [these stories] immediately appealing.” (Library Journal)

“[Antopol] is a wry, occasionally funny writer, with an unerring grasp on human nature…” (Laura Moser - Jewish Daily Forward)

“Antopol writes convincingly and with great empathy.” (Carmela Ciuraru - San Francisco Chronicle)

“[Will] make you nostalgic, not just for earlier times, but for another era in short fiction. A time when writers such as Bernard Malamud, and Issac Bashevis Singer and Grace Paley roamed the earth.” (Meg Wolitzer - NPR)

“Witty and heartbreaking prose.” (Kim Winternheimer - Oregonian)

“[Full of] witty descriptions and engaging characters.” (Nadia Kalman - Jewish Review of Books)

“Unflinchingly honest… Thrilling.” (Hannah K. Gold - The Nation)

“Outstanding… the stories begin as though the reader is walking into an intimate conversation already underway… [and] the endings are never predictable.” (Sandee Brawarsky - Jewish Weekly)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (February 3, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393241130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393241136
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,748 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By W Perry Hall on February 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
"The loneliest moment in someone's life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly." The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

This quote was brought to mind by the final steamroller of a story, "Retrospective," in this wonderful collection of thought-provoking stories. I appreciated all but one of the 7 other stories, which revolve mostly around Jews in World War II Europe, communists and the red scare during the McCarthy era, and Israel. I cannot begin to discuss all of the stories here, so I'll just hit some of my high points.

While the stories involve so many relationships and emotions, the common thread seemed to be the character's revelation of self through loneliness, including: an elderly widower, remarried late and wanting to belong to an old world culture (or a religion); an Israeli soldier's need for his amputee brother's love and to be an important part of his small family contrasted with his selfish feelings for the bro's girl and his guilt from what is on track to be much more; loneliness borne of fear and resentment that comes from being a 13-year-old Jewish girl escaping through sewers and living hungry and in hiding during the coldest winter ever; isolation from a daughter and loss of status in the world; a daughter's loneliness from normal society outside the narrow world of her father, a communist party leader in the U.S. during the Eisenhower years, and her eagerness to do anything to escape; and, a man's loneliness from the loss of his relationship with his wife and 10-year-old son caused by his selfishness and ego.

In "Retrospective," which I consider the best short story I've read in many years, Ms. Antopol quilts the mind with a vivid landscape over which the reader thinks she/he knows the way.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. Jacobs on April 24, 2014
Molly Antopol is an amazing writer. The stories are artfully crafted, the characters are complex and interesting and overall the writing touches something deep inside. Jennifer Van Dyck is a great narrator. HOWEVER, the narration suffers from outrageous mispronunciations of Hebrew/Israeli names and terms.
I am not talking about anything which is difficult in any way to pronounce (like the "ch" in Chanuka"). The most absurd of these is the way the narrator pronounces the name of the Israeli parliament as "Nesset" - as if the "k" in Knesset is silent!
I can not fathom how a narrator knowing (with a silent "k") that a book contains foreign terms does not take an hour to get someone to help her with the pronunciations. As a listener, I find this deeply offensive. I would think it would be fitting for her to redo the narration.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Stewart on February 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book has been hailed by a few sources (Esquire, I can recall, a couple others) as one of the books that'll bring back the short story to the cultural forefront. This required likening to recent Karen Russell and George Saunders publications, and I purchased the book frankly expecting that style of writing. It's not that style of writing. It's quieter and plainer, and I was taken aback just a little. But then the actual storytelling kicked in, and the craftsmanship of narrative, and I realized that Molly Antopol is a young master. Every one of these stories exhibits a subtle complexity that lesser writers would require a novel-span to figure out, and each packs the sort of emotional punch that people seek out great novels for. I can't recommend this collection enough.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover
A title such as “The UnAmericans” begs this question: what is an American? Or more specifically, what is an American in Molly Antopol’s world?

A traditional answer might be to have a personal sense of identity and to be unencumbered to pursue one’s most shining hopes and dreams in a land where anything is possible.

Molly Antopol’s characters are mostly Jewish and they are mostly alienated – from spouse or kids, from past ideology and beliefs, and often, from their most authentic selves. Each story is a little gem onto itself.

We meet an American actor of Russian ancestry who has eschewed his Russian past, only to leverage it in order win a part with a leftist film director. Fingered during the McCarthy era, he goes to prison in support of beliefs that aren’t even truly his. Upon release, he spends a weekend with his admiring 10-year-old son and comes face-to-face with his hypocrisy.

In one of my favorites, A Difficult Phase, a downsized Israeli journalist –floundering in her life – begins to question her life choices when she meets an attractive widower and his young teenage daughter. “This is what she was good at: being the blank, understanding face across the table; putting people so at ease they revealed the things they didn’t want to share with anyone, the things they wished didn’t exist at all.”

Another story, The Old World, focuses on a middle-aged tailor who meets and marries a Ukrainian widow, and travels with her back to her hometown, only to discover that he is a poor substitute for her dead husband. He reflects on his grown daughter who is a “born-again Jew”: “Maybe in religion, Beth really had discovered a way never to be alone. Maybe I am the lost one, wandering the streets of Kiev, competing with a dead man.
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