Inspired by true events, The Good American is the love story of an American fighter pilot and a spirited, young German widow who, in 1948, won’t take no for answer when she decides to smuggle her five-year-old niece out of Berlin just as the Russians blockade the city. But the Russians are no match for the feisty Ruth who is determined to get the child home.
(This is a new edition, new cover, published in 2014.)
Against the backdrop of a country destroyed by war, Ruth Karstens and her sister Hannah struggle to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives in the Allied territories of Western Germany after WWII in 1948. Their tenacity and resourcefulness to conquer hunger and poverty—perennial guests in their crammed attic room—are a testimony to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Ruth has two small children, while Hannah, incarcerated by the Russians for vagrancy, has had to leave her five-year old daughter, Pauli, behind in Berlin when she escapes from a prison camp. When the Russians threaten to blockade the city, foreshadowing a permanent division of Germany, Ruth, who has a passport, decides to get the child. Her journey through enemy territory becomes an unforeseen odyssey of ingenuity and sheer pluck.
Some forty years later, prompted by her own childhood memories of growing up in a world utterly broken, Penelope Karstens writes a novel of her mother’s perilous journey, and of Ted Whitman, the American pilot, who fell in love with her the moment she stood before him in her mended dress and her borrowed jewelry, her proud demeanor and her defiant air that seek to mask her abominable poverty. Titled The Good American, the manuscript, unwittingly, becomes a document of redemption for Ted’s estranged son, Alex.
Politics, A Fragment
On a summer day in 1948, Ruth Karstens, a young widow, and Pauli, her five year old niece, made their way gingerly down a densely forested mountain somewhere in eastern Germany. Both were hot, muddy, and exhausted. Pauli, holding on to Ruth’s hand, lagged behind more and more, and so it looked as if Ruth were dragging the child down the mountain. A fresh breeze that had stayed behind after a thunderstorm parted the leaves of the trees now and then and gave Ruth a view over the vast, green pastures and barren fields toward where she was headed: a round village at the far horizon out of which stuck a church steeple. In the haze of that humid summer day, the hamlet looked more like a mirage than an actual village, but the image was enough to inspire Ruth to keep going.
In the same dense and silent forest, near the foot of the same mountain, a Russian soldier sat on the ground. He guarded a wide, muddy strip of land, a kind of road that hugged the foot of the mountain. His task was to make sure that no one would cross it.
The strip was about fifty yards wide and had been thoroughly cleared of trees and underbrush and, particularly, of the network of brambles of the wild blackberries that used to grow there. The children of the village used to come in the summer to collect the berries in tins and baskets, and their mothers used to make the most delicious jams out of them. But the children did not come that summer. In fact, no one went near the mountain for fear they would be shot.
That day in 1948, the raped tract of land, now looking sad and desolate, didn’t have the least scent of the brutal notoriety that would define it for the next fifty years when it would be called ‘The Iron Curtain.’ By dividing the world into East and West, it would have more power than any other piece of real estate ever. That afternoon, it looked innocent enough. Not far from the soldier, in the part that was called ‘The West’ and that was occupied by the American Armed Forces, a young farmer tilled a field with an ox. Ruth could see him as she came down the mountain. She had the distinct sense that, once she crossed what appeared to her a muddy creek and made it to that farmer, she would be home free.
The soldier, a gun in his lap, fished a cigarette out of a crumpled pack and struck a match. But before the match could make its way to the tip of the cigarette, a twig snapped brightly in the silence of the forest. The soldier froze, holding the lit match between his fingers. All his senses strained as the small sound of leaves crushed by soft steps came haltingly closer from somewhere above him. Without making the least sound, he blew out the match, lifted his gun, and rolled behind a tree. Ruth and the child walked directly and unsuspectingly toward him. . . .