She wanted to stay in this city with them, she wanted to have what they had. She wanted it all, the green card, the citizenship, the vote. The income taxes! The Constitutional rights. The two cars in the garage. The garage. The driver’s license. My New American Life, by Francine Prose
Because my daughter in law immigrated to the United States in 1999, I’m always interested in books about the immigrant experience. But I have to hope that My New American Life would not be the book that best describes her journey. Satirical, cynical, and somewhat silly, the plot involved Lula, a 26 year old Albania woman who is living surreptitiously on an expired tourist visa in New York, acting as a pseudo-nanny to a rebellious high school boy (really?) Things are going along quite well for Lula – she doesn’t have to do much except keep this sullen teenager company when he’s home – until some shady members of the Albanian “Brotherhood” show up with an offer she can’t refuse. They ask her to hide a gun for them, and insinuate dire consequences to follow if she doesn’t cooperate.
What’s a girl to do? especially when one of the thugs is so darn good-looking. She hangs on to the firearm, thereby insuring an extension of this already far-fetched plot.
Lula is not a good example of an American immigrant – she lies to everyone about her background, she even lies to herself. She seems feckless, without real ambition to better herself. With the exception of the stories she writes, thinly veiled vignettes of her own life, she has nothing with which to occupy her time. And the Americans in the novel don’t fare much better – Mister Stanley, who made his fortune working for the big banks, and has now hired this girl to keep watch over his teenage son. Or Don Settebello, the attorney who serves as the Greek chorus in this rambunctious novel.
For all that, there is a certain charm to Lula, one that made me smile indulgently, as one would at the antics of a spoiled toddler. But like that spoiled toddler, you know there will be nothing left but a big mess to clean up once the cuteness is over. As an example of satire, the book is fast paced and cleverly written, and if you enjoy that genre, you would most likely appreciate it more than I did.