LBI Book Club, Vol III: Her First American by Lore Segal
JULY 14, 2020 2PM-3:30PM EDT

Lore Segal’s Her First American (1985) follows a young Austrian refugee named Ilka who falls in love with a powerfully charming and prominent Black intellectual in 1950s America. Ilka is as wide-eyed as most 22-year-olds, but she has an uncommon sort of fearlessness—the kind that seems to have never known fear. Carter Bayoux, her wiser and older inamorata, gives Ilka an introduction to the way that race, class, religion, and prejudice function in America. The novel, hailed by many as a classic, took her 18 years to write and has a modernist touch, especially in the crackling bits of dialogue and an almost deadpan sense of humor—yes, humor. Despite the heavy subject matter, her sentences always have a way of working toward some wry, dark truth. But the heart of Her First American is in the powerfully drawn humanity of each of the main characters. One is estranged from her country; the other is estranged within his country. Their love comes partly from the friction between that shared sense of half-displacement.*

The first chapter of Her First American is based on the Lore Segal’s short story The First American, published in The New Yorker in 1983. Click here to listen to Alice Mattison reading and discussing the story with Deborah Treisman.

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