Dr. Samuel Berkman
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The American Student

A Novel by Samuel A. Berkman


Shy, cynical, and waiting for his chance to be in the spotlight, fifteen year old Roy Harrison?s world is turned upside down when he is forced to leave his suburban Boston high school and accompany his recently widowed father to Alsace- Lorraine, where his dad?s National Guard unit has been activated for the Berlin Crisis in December, 1961.

Roy is forced to attend a French lycee and in finding the resources to cope with a series of harrowing anti-American events that put his own life in danger, comes to realize that opportunities are not always wrapped in little gold packages.


. . . I relaxed under the soothing hot water. It was a luxury not to have to rush. At home my Dad would tell me to get out after ten minutes just like he’d make me limit phone calls. I really don't think it was about money since he always asked me if I had enough cash and gave me more than I said I needed. Maybe he didn’t really understand how to be a single parent or, then again, maybe he just liked to boss me around. But here the city footed the bill.
     It was a rare opportunity; normally the football players monopolized the showers just like they owned the place. But who was I kidding, they did own the locker room in a way, and everyone knew it, especially them. Not only were there more of them, they were bigger, and louder than the cross-country guys. Furthermore, they received all the attention from our schoolmates, the faculty, cheerleaders, and the school newspaper.
     Once a year The Gazette ran an article about the courage of cross-country runners who endured those long painful distances. But it was only during the last minute of the fall pep rally and on a cue from the principal that the football coach finally admitted that cross-country was an important part of the fall athletic program. . .

. . . The students formed a circle around me in the courtyard. They didn?t ask questions; they just stared. They looked different from the kids back home. It went beyond their berets, scarves and pointed shoes and had more to do with the expressions on their faces as well as some of their features, but I was too disoriented to notice what they were. I should have enjoyed the attention since at home my classmates ignored the foreign exchange students. My friends were mainly interested in fast cars, clothes, beer and sex.
     I felt bad for foreign students in America because they were far from home and must have been lonely. Little did I know just how soon I myself would be one of them. But here I faced the opposite problem. I walked to a chair along the wall, sat down and placed my books on the bench next to me. They followed me and stood in front of where I was sitting. I felt like asking if they wanted a picture, which they could look at instead. It would last longer and take the pressure off me. However I didn?t know how to suggest it and if I could have one of them probably would have gone for a camera. . .

. . . I walked up to take the witness chair the next afternoon. The large attorney in the frayed dark robe stood two feet away and looked at me as though I would be the first course in a long delayed meal. He was the only overweight Frenchman I?d seen in France. There were cigarette stains on his fingernails and he gave off a pungent garlic odor.
      My tongue stuck to my teeth and I felt as though the roof of my mouth had been scalded with a hot potato. It was like the time I ventured across Checkpoint Charley into East Berlin. This time, though, I had a new symptom; both my ears began to shriek. It was a loud whistling sensation, like a teakettle makes as the water begins to boil. The noise interfered with my ability to understand the lawyer, who spoke rapidly in a foreign language. At first, I thought I might be having a stroke, like my grandmother, who complained of that very symptom, a week before her life-ending catastrophe.
     ?Why did you never complain to the school authorities?? the man asked me. He continued to hover around me like a bumblebee and I turned my head toward the judges and motioned for some relief.
     ?Can he step back a little?? I asked.
     The judge told me the attorney was under no obligation to back up. He told me to answer the question not as nicely as he had spoken to Robert. . .

How To Purchase

Copies of The American Student may be purchased online from the following sources:

If you prefer to purchase from a traditional bookstore, and if you have trouble finding The American Student at your favorite shop, please contact the publisher, iUniverse, at 1-800-AUTHORS.

For More Information

For more information about the French Resistance in WWII, the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, please visit our Resources section.