“Matylda: And I Thought Everyone Drives a Limo in Amerika” by Filip Zachoval

“Matylda” is the story of a wide-eyed Czech boy who spends the summer of 1998 on a work exchange in the US.  Intertwined with his impressions of American food (too sugary), American cops (constantly keeping an eye on him), and American shopping (amazing, but out of his price range), are the stories of his parents and grandparents and how they made it through WWII and the rise and fall of the Soviet Eastern Bloc.

The flashback-and-jump-forward structure can seem a little incoherent at times, but Zachoval’s enthusiasm for his subject matter bubbles infectiously off the page.  We see America in the late 1990s as a place that is even more wonderful than the narrator’s Eastern Bloc dreams could imagine (his first visit to WalMart is likely to raise smiles of understanding or disbelief, depending on the reader), but also full of disappointing contradictions, such as his first visit to a Native American reservation.  Visitors and immigrants from Eastern Europe are likely to recognize the narrator’s experiences as their own, and Americans will this outsider’s perspective on their country as simultaneously entertaining and thought-provoking.  An interesting and worthwhile entry into the genre of “Coming to America.”

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