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The UnAmericans: Stories Hardcover – February 3, 2014
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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.”
“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
Top customer reviews
Molly Antopol does this magnificently in her collection "The Un*Americans," eight stories about Eastern European Jews who either live in the United States or have a connection to it--albeit quite a slim connection in two of the stories that are set in Israel. The characters have been powerfully shaped by political events in their country of origin or by the violence of history that personally touched them. They are, for the most part, dissidents and intellectuals. For those who fled to the United States, they had to reinvent themselves as Americans. But are they treated as Americans? Not always. Hence, the "Un*Americans" designation.
There is heartbreak and humor, passion and pain, sympathy and solace in this compelling and intelligently-written collection that explores what we have in common as humans: our relationships to one another. And that is true no matter where we were born.
P.S. "My Grandmother Tells Me This Story" is worth the price of the book alone!
I hope to read more of her work soon.
My domestic partner's first-generation American Jewish parents had strong communist leanings and were devoted to all that FDR accomplished while my long-standing American protestant parents (my mother traced her lineage back to William Bradford of The Mayflower fame) detested communists and all things FDR. My partner's parents were poor whereas mine rose rapidly into the middle class in the 50s. And in "Duck and Cover," the reader meets some truly wonderful characters, a story told by a now-adult-but-then-teenage Jewish girl--all things are Jewish in these stories--whose mother died years ago and whose father is completely into "the Party." The title is in reference to what my partner and I laugh about today, the times when we were to "duck and cover"--duck under our desks to cover ourselves--in preparation for the inevitable end because of "the commies" and their bombs (not that back then discussions centered around the country that actually used those bombs first!). The story, as is true of all these stories, is told in such an authentic voice.
"The Quiet Man" is another favorite--essentially they all fall under that category. Told in first person by a Prague-born father who with his young wife and baby daughter came to this country where he taught at a college in Vermont. (I lived most of my life in Vermont, much of it in Middlebury where Middlebury College is located--and taught there.) But the marriage ended with his wife's move to New York City where she had custody of their daughter, now herself an adult who has just recently published her first play. The narrator had a downward professional projector--he had to settle for adjunct teaching--and has ended up living in a college town in Maine. (My former wife moved to a college town in Maine, and I have an adult daughter who is a writer. And I just ended teaching as an adjunct English "professor"-not who loved this sentence from the story: "But the last thing I wanted to do was read another student essay.") The daughter goes to visit him, and he realizes that they don't know how to relate to each other, something I have experienced with one of my daughters. So this story in particular felt so real to me.
There are nine stories. "My Grandmother Tells Me This Story" is one that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to study a very unique presentation of point of view since it is an interesting combination of first person and second--and I love how many writers today write in second person. The thirteen-year-old Jewish grandmother has been telling her story again and again over the decades. And in this story the reader experiences the horrors of what happened to her and the grandfather, what Jewish youth were forced to do in war-torn Europe in attempts to survive, but in this telling of the story it is also the grandchild's perspective of what happened, one that demonstrates both the poignancy of the narrator's admiration of her grandparents and what they suffered but also how it has impacted all future generations. I experience this often with my partner who retells his Jewish roots again and again because it is his only way of dealing with the pain.
"The Old World" is one of her stories in this collection that has some very humorous lines, a good one to begin with which you will do if you go in order. However, the next story, "Minor Heroics," set in Israel, depicts the horrors of what life can be like in the middle of war.
Designated as 5 under 35 by the National Book Foundation--meaning she's under 35 years old--might suggest a lack of enough life experiences to write with much wisdom. Well, that's certainly not true for these stories which demonstrates a profound understanding of a wide variety of people. "...but Talia had known her parents for too long to have any idea what they actually looked like now." She's currently living with them given her reduced status as a journalist. So a reader might think that untrue. In this story, "A Difficult Phase," the reader becomes aware that what the first-person narrator really means is this: we get used to elder faces and find ourselves not quite sure what those people now look like. And since I'm one of them, I understand exactly what this is about. This story, like all the others, has a remarkable cast of characters--and it's sort of a love story.
In the stories set in Israel there's the overlay of the military draft, and although the author doesn't tip her hand politically in any of these stories, there exists the existential threat for the lives of those living there.
I predict that Molly Antopol will be one of America's newest great literary writers.
But! There is one factual error on page 245. There are no trains that run from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to Brattleboro. Oops!