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The UnAmericans - Stories [Paperback]

Molly Antopol
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

4 Nov 2014
An absentee father, a former dissident from communist-era Prague, needles his adult daughter for details about her newly commissioned play when he fears it will cast him in an unflattering light. An actor, imprisoned during the Red Scare for playing up his communist leanings to get a part with a leftist film director, is shamed by his act when he reunites with his precocious young son. An Israeli soldier, forced to defend a settlement filled with American religious families, still pines for a chance to discover the United States for himself. A young Israeli journalist, left unemployed after America s most recent economic crash, questions her life path when she begins dating a middle-aged widower still in mourning for his wife. And in the book s final story, a tour de force spanning three continents and three generations of women, a young American and her Israeli husband are forced to reconsider their marriage after the death of her dissident art-collecting grandmother. Again and again, Molly Antopol s deeply sympathetic characters struggle for footing in an uncertain world, hounded by forces beyond their control. Their voices are intimate and powerful and they resonate with searing beauty. Antopol is a superb young talent, and The UnAmericans will long be remembered for its wit, humanity, and heart."

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (4 Nov 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393349969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393349962
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,037,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


Fresh and offbeat memorable and promising. --Dwight Garner"

About the Author

Molly Antopol is a recent Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University, where she currently teaches as a Jones Lecturer. Her short stories have appeared in numerous American publications, and she has received special mention in ‘Best American Short Stories’. Her essays and reviews appear in the ‘San Francisco Chronicle’, ‘The Rumpus’ and NPR’s ‘This American Life’. She lives in San Francisco and Tel Aviv.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong writing, weak in parts 30 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a strong and well-written collection of short stories with well-chosen themes. However it was let down by some passages which just weren't very credible. For example, the rather cold and over-educated 'row' between a married couple right at the end just isn't believable, nor is the strange and sudden attachment of a child who has lost her mother to her father's one-night stand. These rather let the book down. I also found the male characters a little too sympathetic, and whilst the female characters tended to be stronger and more believable the men in it were always hapless victims.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All the lonely people, where do they all come from 7 Feb 2014
By W. Perry Hall - Published on
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. [[Seen a lot of this before, know where we're headed. Turbulence, but set her on cruise control; ahh ..., four more to go, take foot off gas and coast; two more, put right foot easily on brake, and ..... WHAM!]] And yet, this was no contrived shock ending. I wish I could do justice to the author's work by adequately describing my jumbled and racing thoughts and how the final scene was so well-laid that it rendered my heart heavy and left me feeling so alone that for a fleeting moment my only remedy seemed to be my eternal consciousness and my faith. That is one that stays around in your head for a while.

I plan to read a few of these again and mine them for the gold I know is there in a second crossing.

I highly recommend this book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet, sure writing. 13 Feb 2014
By Matthew Stewart - Published on
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first book 24 Feb 2014
By Robert - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I pre-ordered this book based only upon the strength of the story "The Quietest Man" that was published in "One Story" a few years ago. I've enjoyed the additional stories immensely. The characters come alive and stay with you just as if they were developed in a full-length novel. I especially like that the writing is devoid of pretense. The stories are not written in that post-Cheever style that shouts "I'm that extra-clever literary form!" They're just written. I regret not having time to write a more thorough review but I wanted to express my admiration for this collection.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Is the Finest Literary Cuisine 31 Mar 2014
By C. E. Selby - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an author that those who like literature that is authentically artistic will look forward to reading more of. I happen to be very fond of Jewish stories. So this has been a delightful read although not all of the eight stories reflect delightfulness. The stories, some in first person and some a combination of first and second and some in third, are indeed "un"American since they all involve characters who either came to the United States or who have very deep roots elsewhere.
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!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THIS is why I read short stories. A masterful collection. 9 Feb 2014
By Larry Hoffer - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There was a time when I didn't read short stories, because I said I didn't like getting emotionally invested in characters and plot only to have to move on a short while later. It was a foolish sentiment, in retrospect, one which I abandoned about 15 years ago when I realized how rich the short story landscape truly was, filled with talented authors creating stories with the power of full-length novels, stories whose characters intrigued me and made me long to know more about what happened to them when the stories ended.

Molly Antopol's new collection, The UnAmericans, is one of the reasons I'm glad I read short stories. Every one of the eight stories in this collection packed a quiet power, richly drawn characters, and tremendously compelling explorations of human emotion in typical and unusual situations.

The characters in Antopol's stories are Jewish people spanning the 1950s through the present. Whether it's the former Czech dissident-turned-New England professor in "The Quietest Man," who tries to find out from his estranged daughter what her new play will say about their strained relationship; the restless Israeli journalist desperate to once again leave her country in search of work, but can't seem to get herself disentangled from a relationship with a widower and his teenage daughter, in "A Difficult Phase"; the actor recently released from prison after refusing to name names during the McCarthy era in "The Unknown Soldier," who has reinvented himself to get roles but can't seem to even act the part of good father to his young son; the young Israeli soldier in "Minor Heroics," who finds his loyalty to his family tested after an accident; or the woman recounting her exploits in the Yiddish Underground during World War II in "My Grandmother Tells Me This Story," these are seemingly ordinary people facing challenges that test their strength and their heart.

After I finished every one of these stories, I simply thought to myself, "That was so good!" Antopol's use of language and imagery, as well as the emotional richness with which she imbues her characters, really makes this a tremendously strong collection. It doesn't matter that I couldn't identify with the situations most of these people found themselves in; I just wanted to keep reading about them. And usually when I read, I'm struck by a sentence or two, something I like to use in my reviews, but there were so many amazing sentences in these stories it became an exercise of excess.

I've always felt that a good short story keeps you thinking about the characters after it has ended, and in many cases, you'd be willing to read more about them. I felt that way about nearly every story in The UnAmericans. I'm so glad I found this collection, and look forward to seeing what's next in Molly Antopol's career. I know we'll be hearing from her again soon.
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