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Her First American

3.63  ·  Rating Details ·  205 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
She’s Ilka Weissnix, a young Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Europe, newly arrived in the United States. He’s Carter Bayoux, her first American: a middle-aged, hard-drinking black intellectual. Lore Segal’s brilliant novel is the story of their love affair—one of the funniest and saddest in modern fiction.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 30th 2004 by The New Press (first published 1985)
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Jul 26, 2011 Stacy rated it did not like it
I didn't actually finish this book. I just couldn't get through it. The first 20-30 pages or so were interesting enough, but once the main character meets her "first American" the story instantly becomes difficult to follow. Events keep happening with no explanation, the main character seems to have no personality/likes/dislikes of her own, the author keeps introducing new characters & new ideas but then doesn't develop them & the story keeps going off on strange tangents. For example, ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Jan 07, 2014 Ayelet Waldman rated it it was amazing
Lore Segal is my absolute favorite writer of the year. This book is so full of stuff, so packed with wonderful insights and people.
Jan 27, 2008 Kay rated it really liked it
Shelving this book took a moment of thought: the author was born in Vienna and educated in London, but this is at heart a very American story -- perhaps the most American of stories, in fact, for it is an immigrant's story.

The central characters, Ilka Weissnix and Carter Bayoux, are an unlikely pair of lovers: she, a young Jewish girl who fled the horrors of WWII, her parents left behind (one to die, the other to survive but driven mad); he, a sophisticated black intellectual, tormented and alc
Terri Jacobson
In many ways Her First American is an unusual book. It was written in 1985, but the story takes place in the early 1950s. 21 year old Ilks Weissnix is newly in America after criss-crossing Europe as a Jewish refugee during the war. She wants to meet "real Americans" so she can practice her English. She meets Carter Bayeaux in a bar in Nevada. (Ilka was taking a train across the country in an attempt to find those real Americans.) Carter is a large, "middle-aged black intellectual on the skids." ...more
Nov 22, 2009 Hilary rated it it was ok
I feel like I didn't get this book. I know it was about race relations, and I even got the double entendre about Ilka's last name, but I still don't think I understood the various undercurrents in the book. (For example, was the Ebony character constantly feeling downtrodden, or was she sweet?) Maybe if someone had read it aloud so I could hear the tones of voice, I would have liked it better.
I received this book from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How It Made Me Feel:
I haven't read a book in a while that really made me think as I read. Her First American is very different from the books I've been reading lately and I really enjoyed it! It was a completely different take on Historical Fiction for me and I felt like it opened up a completely new door in books. The story is written from Ilka's point of view, a point of view from a Viennese woman learning English and bei
Maren (The Worn Bookmark)
I received Her First American by Lore Segal through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I came across this book on NetGalley, I immediately wanted to read it based on the summary provided. I requested a copy and within a few hours my request was approved. I started reading it later that night. That's where my excitement ended and the confusion began. At times, the writing was hard to follow. I could not really get a decent feel for the characters. I couldn't connect or understand ei
May 09, 2008 Suju rated it really liked it
I read "Shakespeare's Kitchen" right before this (by the same author) and while I found it eminently readable, I didn't find it memorable. But I'd heard that "Her First American" was a modern classic and so I jumped in.

It's a terrific book. There's not much in the way of plot. It's ultimately a character study - primarily of Carter Bayoux (the titular first American). He's a big, brash, brilliant, middle-aged, alcoholic, black intellectual in post WWII New York. The book focuses on his relation
Nicole Overmoyer
I wanted to like Lore Segal’s HER FIRST AMERICAN. I really did. I read the blurb on NetGalley and I wanted to read the book immediately. And I was thrilled when my request was accepted.

I don’t think this book is the one for me.

I read a quarter of the book, my test length for whether or not to read on. HER FIRST AMERICAN did not pass the test. It seemed repetitive in places. I didn’t feel connected to Ilka or to Carter. I understood the roles they were meant to play and the message they were mean
Aug 25, 2016 kp rated it it was amazing
Funny and piercing book about identity and loss. The main character, a young holocaust survivor who has washed up in New York and whose curiosity about the new world is boundless, meets "her first American," a black middle-aged intellectual with a drinking problem. The story is about their affair, but it's also a story about identity, about race in 1950s America, about loss, and about carrying on. You will fall hard for the protagonist, inquisitive and warm-hearted Ilka, and, in a different way, ...more
Karen Chandler
Sep 27, 2010 Karen Chandler rated it it was amazing
This wonderful novel is very engaging, but it calls on readers to be fairly active in interpreting the characters and their relationship to each other and to their social environments. The protagonist's cousin brings her copies of Henry James novels. And apparently Segal has read her share of them, but her prose is less intricate. (And frankly the idea of James bringing together a middle-age black man and a young Jewish refugee is not something I want to imagine.) My description is quite dry, ...more
Jeremy Hornik
Sep 03, 2011 Jeremy Hornik rated it really liked it
Lore Segal... sigh. She's so good. She's sort of like Grace Paley... they both have this amazing ability to take these beautiful situations, drawn carefully from life, and surround them with so much oxygen that you get heady thinking about them. They both make thoughts happen in your head.

So this one, my first Lore Segal grownup book, is about a new immigrant, a Jew from Vienna who has a long friendship/love affair with a vividly decaying black intellectual at least twice her age. The book cover
Mar 05, 2015 Janice added it
A follow-up to Other People's Houses, her (semi?) autobiographical novel about getting out of Vienna on the Kindertransport as a child and never feeling at home with various British families who take her in; nor does the sense of displacement end after her parents are able to join her. In Her First American, her character has made it to the U.S. at last, but the sense of exile continues. She gets into a love affair with an older Black intellectual, and her unfamiliarity with the conventions of ...more
Jul 07, 2008 Leigh rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 07, 2009 Frances rated it really liked it
The protagonist speaks weak english so it is hard to follow, but the story is interesting and worth the read if you can get over Ilka's weird english....okay so I am half way done and this book is growing on me...I love the bourbon loving Carter Bayoux...he reminds me a bit of Henry Miller, but just a is refreshing to read a novel that explores the Black Intellectuals in the 1950-60s.....I will post more once I finish...hopefully by tonight....
Nov 12, 2012 Anupama rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really couldn't get into the book until 3/4 of the way, because I didn't feel the author had given enough background on the Carter Bayoux character for me to sympathize with him or understand why all those around him tolerated/enabled his alcoholism; he was supposed to be a charismatic man, and I couldn't see it. I found other aspects interesting: the African American "up & coming" community, and Jewish immigrant Ilka's mother's PTSD related to escaping from Nazis in Vienna.
Felicity Gibson
Oct 02, 2014 Felicity Gibson rated it it was ok
Her First American
By Lore Sejal
3rd October 2014

I wanted to like this book and I tried reading it three times before I managed to finish it. I miss having a plot to a story and I was not drawn to the characters and could not understand their attraction to each other. The conversations about race and race relations was interesting. I award this book 2 stars.
Aug 09, 2009 Maia rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: looking for Jewish-American experience, immigrant experience, after ww2 etc
Shelves: before-1960
I loved the premise of this book and I really, really wanted to like it (especially because I did like her first autobiographical one) and yet, despite some very fine writing, this novel seems terribly dated and mostly just plain bored me. I attempted to read it four times before I finally made it from start to finish, and I was not happy when i did.
nella new york del dopoguerra ilka, giovane ebrea viennese sfuggita all'olocausto, incontra carter bayoux - il suo primo americano, nero, colto, alcolizzato e stravagante. la scoperta dell'amore e di un paese, le solitudini così diverse, l'infelicità, tutto il nuovo e il bello delle scoperte. tenero e sommesso, divertente, a tratti ingenuo come la sua protagonista.
Michelle Debra
Jun 20, 2009 Michelle Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
a very unusual nyc love story with an unusual main character. whereas normally I devour books in gulps, Segal's writing always makes me pause and think. highly recommended if thinking is what you are in the mood for!
Sara Dempsey
Jun 06, 2014 Sara Dempsey rated it really liked it
Shelves: erica-s-list
I'd love to see this made into a movie w/Carter Bayoux being played by Sam Jackson.
What a beautiful carefree (despite Carter's alchoholism) interacial relationship during a time when segregation was a hotbed.
I love Ilka's openness and curiosity.
Nov 05, 2013 Mya rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z-2013-challenge
While this book has a few interesting conversations about race & race relations, overall it is plot-less & pointless. It follows two characters through their love affair, but since I neither like the characters nor understand their attraction to each other, I had a hard time caring.
Apr 26, 2013 Kathleen rated it liked it
So so. I found the main character hard to get. Why did she put up with the guy's drinking for so long. Worth reading just for the discomfort of being the outsider when African Americans are dissing their white friends/acquaintances. Different to experience what others live with every day
Feb 22, 2011 Julia rated it really liked it
A gripping book about race in the 50s, but so delicate and understated--the subject feels like it's explored through character somehow. It seems current now. The voice of the narrator is wonderful.
Missives From
Apr 22, 2009 Missives From rated it liked it
Good, but not the "great American novel" it was touted to be. I liked Shakespeare's Kitchen and Other People's Houses better.
Sue Davis
Sue Davis rated it really liked it
Sep 27, 2013
Nina rated it it was amazing
Jan 02, 2008
Jennifer rated it it was ok
Feb 02, 2011
Ann rated it liked it
Oct 04, 2011
Stefanie rated it it was ok
Jun 03, 2008
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Lore Segal was born in Vienna in 1928. In 1938, she arrived in England as one of the thousands of Jewish children brought out of Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia by the Kindertransport and lived with several foster families in succession. She graduated from the University of London and, after a sojourn in Trujillo's Dominican Republic, came to New York City. She married the editor David Segal ...more
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