She’s Ilka Weissnix, a young Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Europe, newly arrived in the United States. He’s Carter Bayoux, her first American: a middle-aged, hard-drinking black intellectual. Lore Segal’s brilliant novel is the story of their love affair—one of the funniest and saddest in modern fiction.

For Ilka Weissnix, everything is new. She is determined to escape the immigrant communities of New York and boards a train headed west to discover “the real America.” She finds Carter Bayoux “sitting on a stool in a bar in the desert, across from the railroad.” Older, portly, experienced, and black, Carter is magnetic. To Ilka, he exemplifies the values and cultures of a changing America. In order to understand her new country and her new love, Ilka throws herself into Carter’s dizzying world, nurses him through his bouts of depression and his alcoholism, and becomes fascinated by stories of his amorous past. But Carter’s ghosts are ever present, and soon Ilka finds herself torn between saving him and saving her own future.

With a foreword by Stanley Crouch, HER FIRST AMERICAN is the poignant story of an immigrant experience in a country of endless possibilities and of a rich and breathtaking love that is doomed from the start.


Lore Segal is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist SHAKESPEARE’S KITCHEN, as well as the novels OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES, LUCINELLA, and HALF THE KINGDOM. Segal has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, two PEN/O. Henry Awards, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, a fellowship at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  A recognized author of children’s books, Segal has also written for The New YorkerThe New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and Harper’s, among others.