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My New American Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 26, 2011

3.7 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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The Daughter of Union County
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The story of a good-hearted immigrant doubles as a snapshot of America during Bush II's second term in Prose's uneven latest. Lula is a 26-year-old Albanian working an undemanding au pair gig in New Jersey. Her employer, Stanley, is a forlorn Wall Street exec recently abandoned by his mentally disturbed wife. He asks only that Lula see to the simple needs of his son, Zeke, a disaffected high school senior. Soon, Stanley and one of his friends, a high-profile immigration lawyer, are taken with the tale-telling, mildly exotic Lula (who speaks English flawlessly) and get to work on securing her citizenship. Lula's gig is cushy if dull, a condition relieved when three Albanian criminals, led by the charming Alvo, arrive at Stanley's house with a quiet demand that Lula harbor a (Chekhovian) gun for them. Prose seeks to show America through the fresh eyes of an outsider with a deeply ingrained, comic pessimism born of life under dictatorship, yet also capable of exuberant optimism, and the results, like Lula, are agreeable enough but not terribly profound. (May)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Whenever Lula feels pressure from Don, her heroic immigration lawyer; or Mister Stanley, her melancholy employer; or Zeke, his moody teenage son; she offers a wry observation about how brutal life is in her native Albania to ensure their sympathy. She also needs to remind herself to be grateful for living legally in the U.S., in spite of how lonely and bored she is working as a nanny in New Jersey. Lula doesn�t do much, since Zeke is old enough to be applying to college, but his father doesn�t want him home alone after his imbalanced mother�s abrupt disappearance. Between trips to Guant�namo, Don encourages Lula to write a memoir titled My New American Life, a clever setup that allows Prose great freedom in crafting Lula�s comically ironic and heartbreakingly guileless voice. In deftly choreographed scenes of caustic hilarity, from awkward meals to fumbled romance, Prose articulates both Lula�s hopefulness and homesickness as she contends with Mister Stanley and Zeke�s despair, Don�s righteous indignation, and the frightening demands of three Albanian guys who show up in a black Lexus SUV. Prose is dazzling in her sixteenth book of spiky fiction, a fast-flowing, bittersweet, brilliantly satirical immigrant story that subtly embodies the cultural complexity and political horrors of the Balkans and Bush-Cheney America. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Prose continues to ascend in popularity and acclaim, having just been honored with the prestigious Washington University International Humanities Medal. --Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061713767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061713767
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,824,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
Out of reverence for a successful author, I am reluctant to share how disappointed I feel as I put down a novel and ask, "Is this it? Is that all?" I would not have written this review if I didn't take a page from the author herself, Francine Prose, whose sharp critical pen had once smashed Maya Angelou's metaphors to pieces in a 1999 article in Harper's Magazine.

Lula, an Albanian refugee, is living with Mister Stanley and his high-school senior son whose wife and mother respectively had left them abruptly last Christmas. Lula's role is just to keep the lonely, friendless Zeke company after school until his father comes home and the two of them can engage in their painfully awkward relationship, dancing around the void left by the woman of the house. With a lot of time on her hands, Lula, who conveniently speaks perfect English with a vocabulary that only the top 1% of American master, is content to mark time while Mister Stanley's friend, Don, arranges for her work visa. In time, hopefully, there would be the Green Card that would allow her to make USA her home. She is comfortable in the house and other than some vague worry about her friend who might have disappeared into a trafficking ring but shows up as living the rich life only twenty miles away, there is no worry. Neither does Lula, at twenty-seven, possess a vision of a future and shows no ambition for a career or love.

There is little that is not American about Lula other than she doesn't know how to drive, a fact made poignant because her parents were killed in Albania as a result of her father's reckless driving--and not in an act of war as her listeners prefer to hear when she regales the small circle with her stories, told both orally and in writing.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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