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An American Decade

by Richard Aronowitz

Chapter One
After the death of his wife, Christoph leaves Germany in 1930 and eventually finds success as a singer on Broadway. As the decade unfolds he witnesses the rapid rise of American organisations sympathetic to Hitler.

The ominous presence and popularity of these far right groups become a constant reminder of his inaction. As the human horrors of Nazism close in he is forced to act and sets sail across the Atlantic in search of a hidden piece of his history.

An American Decade is a novel that connects the current political climate with that of the tumultuous 1930s; a decade in which the world was changed forever.

An American Decade

- Sneak Chapter -

October 1930

The great hulk of the ship juddered and vibrated with a low rumble of thunder as it came into port. Christoph Rittersmann had been on board the “Albert Ballin” for ten days as it sailed down from Hamburg to Cherbourg then onwards to Southampton and New York, and had spoken to no-one. Sometimes, his fellow passengers had heard him singing in his cabin: Lieder by Schubert, perhaps, and other songs that they did not know. To those who understood these things, he had a wonderful tenor voice, even through upholstered wooden walls. To the few others who noticed this ghost of a man at all, he had a closed-off, faraway look, with his hair slicked straight back from his forehead, as if he walked framed in a promotional photograph of a film star they did not recognise.

The ship was docking in an outer quay. Its metal body, to Christoph as immense and mysterious as a city built on water, seemed to threaten to break apart as it groaned and echoed with guttural booms and creaks in slowing, its incalculable weight working against itself. He could make out only dim shapes on the quayside through the thick maritime fog. He clutched his papers in his hand and could not begin to know what to expect. He was only thirty and had left everyone he loved behind in the Ruhr.

He knew no-one on Manhattan except his childhood friend from home, the composer Matthias Walter who had come to the island five years earlier. He had not been able to establish, due to the carelessness of a cable operator on board ship, whether Matthias would be at the pier to meet him where he came in. He was not sure that he would recognise Matthias in the crowd after all this time. Christoph had attended English language classes at night-school in Wuppertal for almost two years before he left ─ the first time that he had tried to master the language since finishing with it in disgust at fourteen at the Gymnasium ─ but he was on unsteady ground away from his mother tongue and fatherland. He was not at all sure that the Americans spoke an English that he would recognise for what it was.

Amongst his papers, slightly dampened by the salt-wet air of the passage, was the address that he would call home, a single room above Matthias’ apartment; written in Christoph’s neat copperplate hand in blue ink: 233 East 89th Street, New York, New York. The address sounded almost mathematical, like some sort of equation; a world away from his family home on the Weinbergstrasse that told you where it went and what it was. Matthias used the room for storage, he had written to Christoph, but would clear it out and furnish it with a bed in time for his arrival. Christoph knew that East 89th Street was on what they called the Upper East Side, but had no idea what life was like there. He had come to New York to make something of his life, and to sing. He had left a woman behind.
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A selection of reviews and criticism on
»An American Decade«

‘A fine novel about an emigre German singer at large in the America of the 1930s, in which Richard Aronowitz displays his characteristic ability to mingle the slow unravelling of ordinary lives with the ebb and flow of world events. I greatly admired it.’
D.J. Taylor, British critic, biographer, novelist. Winner of Whitbread Biography Award 2013, Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2011

‘...packs a terrific and moving ending. He has done his research into 1930s America and there’s something plausibly selfish about Christoph. His politics are thoroughly decent but the way he treats women is not... [The novel is] about men betraying women, men with secrets and how people with good intentions can hide something truly rotten.’
David Herman, The Jewish Chronicle

An American Decade focuses upon some lesser known aspects of the Second World War: Nazism in the US, and the Kindertransport that took Jewish children to safety in other countries. Well written and a compulsive story.’
Karen Warren, Historical Novel Society Review
(An American Decade was editor’s choice for May 2017)

‘The sense of place and time is so cleverly done. We have a picture of America and Germany painted through ideology as well as physical description so that there is an intensity to the settings that echoes through the pages like Christoph’s voice through the concert halls.... Using popular culture, newspaper reports, letters and Christoph’s first hand experiences the reader is given a vivid and searing view of the times. It is not a comfortable picture and the more Christoph achieves the American Dream, the more the contrasts work so effectively.... Unsettling, perfectly crafted and beautifully written.’
Linda’s Book Bag

‘An expressive, fascinating, and convincing glimpse into 1930’s America just before the Second World War. Within Christoph’s tale links to the wider world are unchained, a Nazi group in America bully and strut their way across the pages, letters arrive from Germany full of fear and uncertainty. An American Decade, set on the brink of a horrifying history, rattling thoughts and feelings, is a compelling, striking read.’ –

‘There’s so much to enjoy and experience in this novel – the writing flows, there’s highs and lows, staccato moments and harmony but Christoph is the lonely note whose melodic cries can be heard throughout telling the story of a troubled time. Glittering.’ – The Booktrail

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    An American Decade, […], is a compelling, striking read.
  • account_circle
    […] Well written and a compulsive story.
    Karen Warren - Historical Novel Society
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    Unsettling, perfectly crafted and beautifully written.’
    Linda’s Book Bag
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    There’s so much to enjoy and experience in this novel
    The Booktrail