Months before Molly Antopol’s debut collection of short stories The UnAmericans was published this past February, I began to hear buzz about her and her work. As I approached the book for a book club this past spring, I was a little nervous, as I’m so often disappointed by books that don’t live up to the hype surrounding their work. Thankfully, my fears were for naught, as Antopol’s collection was all that it was promised to be — and more.
Now I know that many readers here will immediately tune out when they see the phrase “collection of short stories,” but I assure you, this book is worth taking a step back from your biases. Each story encapsulates an entire fictional universe, rich with detail, making you crave something more, yet feeling satisfied — albeit with lingering questions — at both the point in which you enter the universe and the point at which you exit.
In the collection, we travel across time and across boundaries from Moscow to Prague, to Israel and the United States (to name a few locales), as Antopol masterfully explores characters caught in challenging situations and times — immigrants on the move between the Old and New World.
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Keeping with the theme of Antopol’s collection — characters draped between the Old and New World — it makes sense to bring that same theme into your wine pairings. As we’re always interested in the stories and differences behind Old and New World wines, this is a great way to bring both together for an evening filled with great conversation around books and wine.
With that in mind, I’ve selected a wine that is more familiar to us from the New World, yet is just as good when produced in the Old World: Malbec. For your book club, I suggest picking up a bottle of Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina and another from the Cahors region of France. Notice how the New World version tastes more polished, ripe and rich, while the Old World Malbec is tighter and leaner in quality? What do you think of the two styles, and which do you prefer? I bet you’ll have as much to talk about comparing the wines as you will the stories!
A Few Discussion Questions To Get You Started
1. Many of the characters in The UnAmericans travel or change locations during the course of their story. How does this seem to affect who they are?
2. What beliefs do these characters cling to, and how do they struggle with letting go?
3. The age-old themes of East versus West and Old World versus New World are big ones in The UnAmericans. How do these themes relate to the characters’ ideas about religion, or about family, or about growing old?
4. How does the history of a given character’s home country agree with or depart from his or her own history or destiny?
5. Think about the idea of home. What does the word mean to these characters?