• Review
By – June 3, 2024

Dan­ny Goodman’s debut nov­el, Amerika­land, explores a devolv­ing world of glob­al ter­ror­ism and anti­semitism through the eyes of two pro­fes­sion­al ath­letes: Sandy Katz­man, an esteemed base­ball play­er, and Sabine Hellewege, a ten­nis cham­pi­on. Both were present at the bomb­ing of World Day, an event host­ed at New Ebbets Field and the City Open. These long­time friends recon­nect fol­low­ing the attack, each try­ing to make sense of the vio­lence and how to best coun­ter­act it — both as pub­lic fig­ures and in their per­son­al encoun­ters with terror.

Amerika­land cen­ters mul­ti­ple revolv­ing themes: man­ag­ing grief as it stacks upon itself; fight­ing oppres­sion; and liv­ing as a sym­bol of excel­lence and per­se­ver­ance. As for the lat­ter, both Sandy and Sabine have been high achiev­ers in their sport for a while, and they’ve learned — at great cost — how to nav­i­gate the media dur­ing times of great stress. This dual­i­ty — being a hero” and being a per­son — is con­veyed in the many inter­views the two char­ac­ters have to give.

The grief that both char­ac­ters face seems insur­mount­able. They enter the nov­el with their own painful his­to­ries: Sabine was shot on court a few months pri­or to the start of the nov­el; Sandy’s father died in a ter­ror­ist attack; Sabine’s moth­er died when she was a girl, and her father-turned-coach was emo­tion­al­ly with­drawn and abra­sive. The trau­ma they endure and wit­ness only con­tin­ues to mount as the nov­el goes on. They dis­play a cer­tain spir­i­tu­al endurance and com­mit­ment to both them­selves and their friends; how­ev­er, the grief they face some­times makes the nov­el feel espe­cial­ly grave and, at times, relent­less. This appears to be part of the novel’s objec­tive, but it makes Amerika­land a heavy read, one that needs to be moved through slow­ly and with care.

The book depicts a bleak alter­nate world, where a covert orga­ni­za­tion of neo-Nazis has devel­oped a deeply entrenched net­work across the globe. Good­man does an excel­lent job of mir­ror­ing the cur­rent day’s Nazism: frac­tion­al­ized and qui­et yet omnipresent. Rather than show­ing up as a uni­fied front, the neo-Nazis typ­i­cal­ly don’t take cred­it for their ter­ror attacks, pre­fer­ring to sow chaos and hatred among groups — pri­mar­i­ly minori­ties — to achieve their ends. In con­struct­ing this group and Sabine and Sandy’s inter­ac­tions with it, though, the book’s plot takes some leaps that feel a bit unbe­liev­able and rely too much on coincidence.

Amerika­land offers a com­pelling por­tray­al of the pro­fes­sion­al lives of both Sabine and Sandy. Good­man clear­ly has a strong under­stand­ing about and respect for base­ball and ten­nis, and these attrib­ut­es keep Sabine and Sandy’s lives ground­ed amid the chaos.

This is a strong debut that grap­ples with wide-rang­ing and intim­i­dat­ing sub­jects. The world in it is depress­ing, but it offers rea­sons to hope, too, in the form of resis­tance against ter­ror­ism and antisemitism.

Ben­jamin Selesnick lives and writes in New Jer­sey. His writ­ing has appeared in decomP, Lunch Tick­et, San­ta Fe Writ­ers’ Project Quar­ter­ly, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. He holds an MFA in fic­tion from Rutgers-Newark.

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