Tag Archives: Book Club Questions

Book Club Reflection: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

11 Feb

I wasn’t the only one who found this novel hard to get through. I was the one who wanted the book club to read this title, but I ended up not being a fan and neither were the members of our club (with the exception of two). Their complaints were similar to mine which is reassuring. Many others never felt anything for the characters and weren’t moved by the massive deaths and wars in the book. With all the magical realism, many of us were exhausted of thinking ‘What does this mean?’ while reading and wanted things to just be somewhat normal. Though it was pointed out everything that happened was plausible in a way and Marquez made sure it was. He wanted an element of realism in the book.

We found a parallel that described the book as the ‘Bible of Macondo.’ It’s true that some Biblical stories can share elements with fairy tales the same way the stories of Macondo seemed fantastical. The ascension of Remedios seems to be a good parallel as well. The deluge is similar to the storm Noah survived and there were characters who lived unnaturally long lives like Biblical characters. Macondo was like the Garden of Eden, a paradise for those who lived there that should have been a safe haven for the inhabitants. Every time people left Macondo, they came back or couldn’t find their way out. Things that were brought to Macondo, like knowledge, brought destruction. The train brought the banana plantation and the airmail took away Gaston and invited a final generation of inter-breeding.

I found it odd that Marquez would include a character in his story named Gerineldo Marquez. It seems odd to include a character with your name in your book. Gerineldo was a voice of reason in the book, as Marquez likely saw himself and his commentary about life in South America. Gerineldo was predicting the end was coming and was ready to die as Marquez (the author) could have predicted the end of his own novel. It seemed an odd insert to me and I thought another name would have been better.

Many others had the same complaint about the book as I did: all of the names are the same. We noticed that all of the Aurelianos were violent with the exception of Aureliano Segundo. The comment about his death that Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo looked the same made us think they really had been switched at birth and that if their coffins were buried in the wrong graves, they had been switched back and really buried in the ‘right’ tombs. And that’s kind of awesome.

Many of the women in the book blended together. They lacked a personality and sense of being important outside of childrearing. The two exceptions were Fernanda and Ursula. Fernanda was a great sense of comic relief in the book. We all enjoyed her struggling through life after Santa Sofia de la Piedad passed away. Many of the men in the story went crazy, obsessing over one thing or another. Ursula stayed sane and kept her family together and loving each other while the men fell apart around her. She developed a numbness to deal with the chaos around her and survive her own family.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

Book Club Reflection: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

7 Dec

I’m so sorry it took so long to get this post to you all. NaNoWriMo got in my way. About a month ago, my book club met to talk about Fahrenheit 451. I read the book for the first time in school and was surprised to see the group was split 50/50 of those who had read it before and those who were reading it for the first time. One new reader went as far as to say this is now probably her favorite book! The copy provided by our library had an intro by Neil Gaiman which many people really liked. I almost wish I’d had that copy.

A little background information on the book. The idea first came out as a short story called ‘The Fireman’ in 1949 which was serialized over a few years in Playboy magazine. The book as a single work was published in 1953. Bradbury says he got the idea from reels of Hitler burning books but in the same breath will say the book is not political commentary. We felt it had a very ‘Cold War’ feeling, especially at the end when the whole world ended in a split second like it could have with nuclear war. Turning in neighbors (and husbands) reminded us of McCarthyism. Very interesting timing.

Most of our discussion about the book was about themes, we didn’t talk much about characters. The one person we did talk about was Millie. She acted a lot of the time like she was out of it and didn’t realize what was going on around her, but there were two times when she did something to let the reader know how affected she was my Montag’s actions. The first was when she tried to kill herself. It let the reader know early on how unhappy she was and this was followed up by her turning in her own husband at the end of the book which let us know she knew what he was doing and was conscious enough to know it was dangerous.

The other person we couldn’t help but talk about was Beatty. He and Faber were the ‘smart’ people in this book and it’s interesting that Bradbury put them on opposite sides of the censorship debate. Faber sees book burning as a loss of ideas and Beatty wouldn’t disagree, but he’s afraid of what the wrong people will do with those ideas in their head. He thinks it’s safer to control who gets those ideas. There’s usually an intelligent person on the side opposite your own so it was refreshing to hear what he had to say.

At the beginning of the book, Clarisse says to Montag, “Nobody has time for anyone else,” and this is proven to us over and over in ways that are frighteningly similar to today’s world. There are three inventions in Bradbury’s book that we have today: the Walkman, ear radios/Bluetooth, and panel TVs. The mechanical dog was a lot like a modern drone. In addition, we see family TV shows, much like reality TV today. People will feel connected to the ‘real’ people on reality shows, sometimes more so than to their real families. The characters in the book are distracted by the seashells in their ears the same way we’re distracted by our smartphones and tablets. Everything from the government was in a soundbite and the short, easily avoidable aspect of this made the war that ended their lives seem far away and untouchable. Millie was abusing prescription drugs to get a high, something our society battles today. In the end, the characters were back to oral traditions and memorizing stories.

In my review, I argued that Bradbury would like the internet and the free exchange of ideas. When I proposed this to the group, most of them disagreed. The Internet enables us to connect with friends but it also provides us with highly artificial relationships and ways of making us feel less alone when we are completely alone. This is the same comfort Millie feels with her TV family. We are connected and can share thoughts, but a lot of what we are sharing is mind-numbing garbage like cat videos or memes. The upside to the internet is that it’s harder to get rid of than books. Try burning the internet.

Those who had seen the movie adaptations felt the books were more timeless than the films. With the film, the idea of ‘the future’ at the time it was made still seems dated while the book is vague enough to let you come up with your own ideas.

One of our members pointed out that Montag is a paper manufacturer and Faber is a pencil company. When Bradbury was asked about this, he said it wasn’t a conscious decision to do so, but maybe it was somewhere in his head when he choose the names.

I’ll have another reflection up soon for my other book club. Both are taking breaks until January so look for some more then.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

29 Sep

A few weeks ago, my book club met to discuss Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things. I wasn’t a big fan of the book and I dragged my feet to get through it. I find these usually make the best book club discussions and I did feel we had a good one that night. It was a mixed bag of feelings. A quick straw poll gave us six out of fourteen that enjoyed the book.

The setting was really vivid in the book. Hoffman is from New York and that helps explain her ideas to set a book in such a volatile year, one that many of us had never heard of in American history. Our facilitator looked up a lot of history on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The owners of the factory were acquitted of manslaughter in the criminal case. A civil case was filed and the men were fined about $75 per casualty. The insurance payout they got was more than the cost of damages by about $400 per casualty. One of the owners was caught locking doors at a factory again and was fined $20 (source). This meeting was in mid-September and many people had finished the book around 9/11 so the images of people jumping out of a building to their deaths were horrific, especially close to such a date. Many were also reminded of the Dhaka Fire, a garment factory that caught fire in Bangladesh in 2012 though casualties, in this case, were caused more by improper exits than any locked doors (source).

One of the things I said bothered me was that the Triangle Shirtwaist fire seemed really removed. It was pointed out to me that Eddie was a photojournalist, someone who sees things through a lens and has to have some level of removal to photograph the things he saw. Eddie was a character with a lot of distance around him as evidenced in his distance from his father. Some felt that the fire was the impotence for Eddie trying to reconnect with other things in his life and was the beginning of his character development. He had been disconnected and desensitized by what he saw growing up in the Ukraine and he had let it affect him for a long time. Seeing such a tragedy spurred him to change.

There’s not much to say about our other main character, Cora. She always thought of herself as a monster yet the characterization of the human oddities made them seem less monsterish than the humans around them. The biggest mystery surrounding Cora was her mother. I thought Maureen was her biological mother and that it wasn’t just an emotional parentage, but some disagreed. The coloring between the two girls didn’t match though that could be explained by a father. We all felt it was rather reminiscent of Moses.

I was not the only one who thought the romance was incredibly cliché and that taking it out would have made the book better. It made some people think of Romeo and Juliet or a Lifetime Movie. This almost made sense because with Coralie’s innocence, all she knew of romance was from fairy tales and books, but Eddy would have known better. It was too juvenile for someone of his background.

Coralie’s father is one of the other major characters in the story though we thought he faded a lot in importance as the story went on. One member was expecting something dark from their relationship but in the end, it wasn’t as terrible as we expected. She was reminded of the story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I think that would have made a better ending.

The side characters were more interesting than many of the main characters. Some favorites were Beck, Hochman, Mr. Weiss, and Levy. These four men made up the father Eddie was missing in his life. I think Levy is the best example of all of them, but Hochman did good things for Eddie growing up. Interestingly enough, Hochman is a real historical figure.

It was pointed out how many animals were in the story. The trout in the pail repeated a lot, representing Eddie being unable to let go of Coralie. There was also Mitts, North, the tortoise, the elephant, and the black lion. Many of the characters were kinder to animals than they were to other humans throughout the book. The factory owners had dogs that they treated like kings but didn’t care about the lives of those around them. Beck would shoot a man as soon as talk to him, but he loved his wolf. We trust animals more than men.

One thing that bothered a lot of us was the hitman sewing his victim’s mouths shut. We got that it was supposed to send a signal to those that were fighting for a union, but it was more like a serial killer than a hired hand. It was a bit too far.

There was a big fire and water motif in the book. Eddie’s story starts with running away from a fire in the Ukraine. The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was the beginning of the story and Eddie’s character development and it all culminated in the Dreamland Fire. Coralie’s story was all in the water. She grew up on the water, found the girl in the water, and was saved by water from the fire. Maureen also had been burned, though with acid. Eddie’s father jumped into the river which was when Eddie mentally gave up on his father. Many of the major changes in the book took place in one or the other.

One theme very few of us picked up on was the contrast between those women fighting for rights such as the factory owners’ daughter and the missing girl and woman who are helpless or abused like Cora and Maureen. The abused women are scared to speak up while the others are screaming to be heard. It’s those screaming who end up in more trouble, but those hiding had to fight for their rights as well.

Thanks for reading about our discussion. We’ll meet again in October with a creepy read for fall. Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

20 Aug

 

I’m glad I was able to read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet with my book club. I gave the book a rare 5 stars so you know I liked it. I was curious to see what my book club would think and on the whole, we liked it. It’s a really solid read.

Cultural identity is a big theme in this book. The button Henry wore, the ‘I Am Chinese’ button, made it hard to forget how important cultural identity can be. Being Chinese was ‘good’ because they were on the same side in the war. Only the innocent eyes of a child could see they were all Americans. But the Chinese were afraid of looking like the Japanese. I’m sure Koreans and other East Asians were afraid of the same thing. While it’s not hard for a Japanese to recognize another Japanese, it’s hard for a white American raised in the states to tell a Chinaman from a Japanese.

Some of us were amazed to hear the Japanese men volunteered to serve in the US army after being put in the internment camps. The government had done so much to disadvantage them yet they were willing to die for that government. We think it did prove their loyalty to the US, but it did nothing to help them out of the camps. When the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the Japanese-Americans were happy, especially the soldiers who could then go home to their families. They might have had relatives die in the fall-out, but they were happy to see it end.

Is this a part of US history we have learned from, or is this something that’s doomed to repeat itself? Our group was split on this question. It’s easy to identify conservative Muslims by hijabs and long beards but after the 9/11 attacks, they weren’t put in mass internment camps. Some in our group still think this could happen. Every group has its struggles when it’s the ‘new immigrant.’ Irish, Italians, Jews, Blacks, Arabs, and Hispanics are just the ones that come to mind. The Japanese were on this list at a pivotal time in US history. I think the Japanese internment is an incident that won’t be repeated.

If the Japanese had revolted, it wouldn’t have helped anything. They were already viewed negatively from perceived loyalties to an enemy nation and though the book didn’t say it, I’m sure there were hate crimes involved. No one was willing to listen so yelling louder wasn’t going to do much good.

The relationship between Henry and his father provided us with a lot to talk about in our meeting. We thought it was somewhat contradictory that Henry’s parents wanted him to speak English at home so they could learn it but wanted to send him to China to finish school. His parents didn’t seem to be learning English from him at all, so the practice seems to have been pointless.

If I were Henry, it would be hard to forgive my father. He thought he was doing the right thing, but it seems to have hurt Henry in the long run. Henry doesn’t have to forgive his father, but life would be easier if he did. Holding a grudge like that is hard.

The paralleled relationship between Henry and Marty made the similarities very apparent. Marty is also scared to tell his father about his relationship because of his fiancée’s ethnicity. However, both Samantha and Keiko are American. All Marty saw was Ethyl, the traditional Chinese-.American bride and Henry did nothing to change that opinion. Henry didn’t want to share with is son how he was the rebellious ‘wild child’ to his parents. Children don’t like to think of their parents before they were parents.

The only thing about Henry that bothered some of our group was that we felt the author treated 56-year-old Henry like a character in his 80s. My in-laws are older than that and act 30 years younger than this character. It seemed odd.

One of our discussion questions asked if Henry gave up on Keiko too easily. Honestly, none of us did. He was 12 when he fell in love with her and tried everything he could for four years to stay in contact with her. He had exhausted all his avenues except for going to the camp again. And going to the camp was very risky because the white guards might have made him stay inside it, being unable to tell him from the Japanese trapped inside.

The opposite question is why Keiko didn’t try to see Henry. It seemed like he wasn’t writing her back for a few years, that he wanted to be left alone. By the time she came back, he might have been in China and was at least dating Ethyl. She was a nice girl, she probably didn’t want to ruin his happiness.

We all liked the relationship between Henry and Sheldon. Most of us thought Sheldon was older than he was, at least in his 50s and not only 16 years older than Henry. He was half-way between a father figure and a brother figure.

There were things at the end of the book some members had issues with. One was that we never found out what happened to Mrs. Beatty’s father. They mentioned he had been captured, but we were given no closure on the topic. Others felt it was too rushed and tied up too perfectly. I do agree with this, I felt the ending was quick. One of the other problems someone had with the end was the use of technology to find someone in 1986. No one in our group could answer that well, but he answers that question on his site. It seems Marty is a self-insert into the story and Ford could have done this at the time. Mystery solved?

I hope you enjoyed this book as well. It made for a good book club pick.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernen

13 Apr

My book club always seems to meet around my birthday. It feels like an extra present from the universe when it happens. We met the day before my birthday this year to talk about The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. I think we had a really good discussion.

We used the LitLovers questions to guide our discussion.I love when a non-fiction book reads like fiction and I think we found that in this novel. One member thought she needed an editor to cut out some of the passages that seemed repetitive (mud

I love when a non-fiction book reads like fiction and I think we found that in this novel. One member thought she needed an editor to cut out some of the passages that seemed repetitive (mud mud mud).

This was a topic none of us knew much about before reading it. We knew about the testing in New Mexico but had no idea that there were people in Tennessee refining the uranium. I guess we see what the history books want us to remember!

The first question from LitLovers asked us, “Denise Kiernan explains in an author’s note, “The information in this book is compartmentalized, as was much of life and work during the Manhattan Project.” (page 18) How does the book manage to recreate the workers’ experience of months-long ignorance, and the shock of finding out what they were working on?” Kiernan formatted the book into ‘story’ and ‘science’ sections. She used separate chapters to tell us about what was happening in Europe or with the US government but didn’t mix these things with the sections that told the stories of the women. It was interesting to read about those in Europe and what they were doing to advance science, but the women of Oak Ridge wouldn’t have known that so these stories didn’t overlap. One could read only the story sections and learn about life in Oak Ridge or just the science sections and hear only of war strategies and upper military planning. They were well separated.

Many of us felt for those who had been kicked out of their homes for the factories. There are many stories in our own Detroit of this happening, specifically when residents of the Poletown district were relocated to build a General Motors assembly plant. A member of our group had eminent domain evoked on her property; all of the wooded area behind her home was reclaimed by the city for a draining project. She was compensated only $1!

We saw that a lot of the girls seemed to suffer from a mild depression brought on by all the secrets they were forced to keep. We wondered how common in US history and society a situation like this is where so many people are forced to live in secrecy. There’s each nation’s version of the Secret Service and every job has its own minor secrets, but these seem minor in comparison. When I worked in retail, our big secrets were where the Black Friday TVs were going to be placed in the store, not an atomic bomb!

Question six from Lit Lovers asked, “Why were some women so successful at making Oak Ridge home while others were not, were depressed, looked forward to leaving?” This reminded a lot of us of a person’s Freshman year of college. When people go away to school, most either love or hate the experience. Living alone in a dorm, having the freedom to come and go as you please, is very intriguing to some people. Others, however, need the structure they had when they lived at home. They want to go back to somewhere that’s safe. I remember girls from school who went home for Fall Break in October and never came back. They were happier at home.One of the

One of the quotes I found most intriguing was on page 305.

But one woman in particular strode up to Dot, glaring and asked, “Aren’t you ashamed you helped build a bomb that killed all those people?”
The truth was, Dot did have conflicting feelings. There was sadness at the loss of live, yes, but that wasn’t the only thing she felt. They had all been so happy, so thrilled, when the war ended. Didn’t any of these people remember that? And yes, Oak Ridgers felt horrible when they saw the pictures of the aftermath in Japan. Relief. Fear. Joy. Sadness. Decades later, how could she explain this to someone who had no experience with the Project, someone who hadn’t lived through that war, let alone lived in Oak Ridge?
Dot knew the woman wanted a simple answer, so she gave her one.
“Well,” she said, “they killed my brother.”

I asked the women of our group what they would say if they were Dot and asked this question. Most believed they would have conflicting feelings like Dot did. How many lives were saved by bombing the cities? A member said that his father was supposed to be one of the first to invade Japan if the invasion had ended up like the Invasion of Normandy. There are numbers that tell us how many lives would have been lost if that happened. This article predicts American casualties alone t 267,000 – 800,000 with Japanese deaths higher. When you look at the death toll from the atomic bombs at just under 100,000, the math seems to support it. But that doesn’t mean it feels right.

We wondered if the secret of the project could be kept today with modern technology and communication. Modern culture tends to over-share and over-communicate the details of our lives in a manner and efficiency that was unimaginable in the 1940s. We’re not saying that there are no secret government projects, only that 70,000 civilians would not be brought in to work on them. I don’t know if it could be done in 2015. As far as a secret facility, I would think it would show up on Google Earth, but Iraq was able to build an underground facility that went unnoticed for a long time.One of the women in our group was graduating high school during the war and was married in 1945. She remembers being in downtown Detroit when the news of victory came through and that she packed a picnic and went to Belle Isle to celebrate. While the war was going on, she was a nurse’s aid who would relieve the nurses while they were on breaks and lunch and had

One of the women in our group was graduating high school during the war and was married in 1945. She remembers being in downtown Detroit when the news of victory came through and that she packed a picnic and went to Belle Isle to celebrate. While the war was going on, she was a nurse’s aid who would relieve the nurses while they were on breaks and lunch and had several pen pals in the forces that she would write to. She recalls that none of them were in particularly combative areas. She says she hadn’t paid too much attention to world politics and news before the bombs dropped, but that that event was what helped her to realize how important it was to watch the news and be aware. The news was not easily accessible like it is today and it was an effort to pay attention to current events.The third Lit Lovers question was, “Discuss the role that patriotism played in everyday life during World War II. Do you think Americans today would be willing or able to make the same sacrifices—including top-secret jobs, deployment overseas, rationed goods, and strict censorship—that families of that era made? Why or why not?” Many felt that people today are more skeptical than those of the WWII era. We are more likely to question our government. After 9/11, there was a resurgence of patriotism and after that tragedy, the country might have been willing to commit like it did during WWII. However, the war that followed was funded largely by China and the US citizens didn’t have to sacrifice the way that they did in 1945. The Second World War was a very classless war; everyone fought. Vietnam and Korea were not the same way and the veterans of those wars were not treated with the same dignity. Veterans now are treated better.

The third Lit Lovers question was, “Discuss the role that patriotism played in everyday life during World War II. Do you think Americans today would be willing or able to make the same sacrifices—including top-secret jobs, deployment overseas, rationed goods, and strict censorship—that families of that era made? Why or why not?” Many felt that people today are more skeptical than those of the WWII era. We are more likely to question our government. After 9/11, there was a resurgence of patriotism and after that tragedy, the country might have been willing to commit like it did during WWII. However, the war that followed was funded largely by China and the US citizens didn’t have to sacrifice the way that they did in 1945. The Second World War was a very classless war; everyone fought. Vietnam and Korea were not the same way and the veterans of those wars were not treated with the same dignity. Veterans now are treated better.Many of the characters in this story started to blend together for many of us. They had similar stories and met similar men. They were like the cogs in a wheel that ran a machine in a factory. In the beginning, we all said we struggled to keep them separate and know each one’s story, but we realized that it didn’t matter too much and the overall experience was important, not so much the individual stories.

Many of the characters in this story started to blend together for many of us. They had similar stories and met similar men. They were like the cogs in a wheel that ran a machine in a factory. In the beginning, we all said we struggled to keep them separate and know each one’s story, but we realized that it didn’t matter too much and the overall experience was important, not so much the individual stories.

The prevalence of spying in the novel was surprising to many of us. Being asked to spy on your own neighbor was a horrifying thought. We hated that the people would rat each other out for small things that, in the long run, weren’t doing any damage. Though, the need for high security was justified in that time and with that work. We thought that it would be hard to have a relationship of any kind with your coworkers because you couldn’t talk about the thing you had in common; work.

The segregation in the novel was surprising to some of us, but we recognized it as part of everyday life a Southern state during WWII. Kattie’s experience was one of the few that stuck out to me because of how different it was. The story of Ebb Cade was also horrifying. We wondered if he would have been subjected to similar treatment if he was a white man.

We took this question a step further and wondered if the bombs would have been used against Germany. We know that the Japanese were interned during WWII partly because they were easy to locate because of appearance differences. Is it easier to think of those who look different as separate? Is it easier to bomb them as well? Because the German’s fit the American majority of ‘white European,’ would we have bombed them? It’s an interesting question that we were unable to answer.

One of the big players in the book with very little face time is Truman. Those who remember WWII remember him as the man who ended the war, not the man who dropped the bomb. Now that the effects of nuclear bombs are known, he has a less favorable reputation. At the time, the war ending meant an improved quality of life for many people. There were fewer restrictions on products and communication. Though important then, we don’t tend to think of these effects now.

We wondered about Oak Ridge after the war. This was a farming area before and suddenly there were high-tech facilities and an abundance of people. Though many of them moved away, some stayed. What did they do with the buildings? Who wanted to live in the former dorm rooms when they had a chance to go somewhere else?I know this is a longer post so thank you if you made it this far! We had a great discussion. Our next book is Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo.

I know this is a longer post so thank you if you made it this far! We had a great discussion. Our next book is Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

15 Dec

To round out my week of ‘The Namesake,’ I’m ready to share our book club discussion of the novel. If you missed the other posts, you can read my opinion on the book and the movie in these links.

Everyone in our group enjoyed this book, which doesn’t happen very often. The last book I remember us all liking was The Light Between Oceans. We tend to have very eclectic tastes.

Lahiri had a very descriptive style. Granted, most authors describe things in detail, but her way of being descriptive of small details and still keeping a relatively high-level narrative was distinct enough that we all noticed and commented on her abilities. I think it’s a real gift of hers.

Lahiri herself was born in England (the reason she was eligible for the Man Booker prize in 2013) though she lived the majority of her life in the US and says she feels American. Like Gogol, she remembers visiting Calcutta during her childhood and learning about her Bengali culture.

I had never heard of Gogol before this book and in truth, I have no interest in reading any of his work. (Fun fact, we have the same birthday!) No one in the group had read any of his work, but some had heard of him before. I like that Lahiri chose a real though not very popular writer for this work. It makes the name mean a lot more and the characters seem even more tangible.

One thing a fellow reader noticed that I’d totally missed was that everything seemed to happen on a train! Ashoke’s accident, Gogol meeting his first girlfriend, Ruth, and him finding out about Moushumi’s affair. All on trains. I guess I would think that this has to do with travel and having a journey toward learning something or discovering something about yourself. But that sounds like high school English teachers reading too far into a book. Or maybe my teacher was right about metaphors.

Gogol’s name seemed to follow him his entire life. he hated his name and wished it wasn’t his and toward the end, seems to wish he had kept it as it connected him to his father. Even after he legally changed his name, the narrative still referred to him as Gogol. We felt that was a reflection of how he viewed himself. Our group suspected he might change his name back after finding out about his father’s accident, but he didn’t seem to have any inclination toward it.

We felt that the name Nikhil was a mask he could wear that helped him blend in with white America. I think having a Russian name was confusing for him because he wanted to have a name that gave him an identity and his name clashed with his ethnic identity and his surroundings. Being Nikhil, he could identify himself as Bengali-American and this gave him confidence. He was confident enough to be Maxine’s boyfriend and leave home for school and work.

One of our discussion questions asked if we think he would have been happier if he were born with a ‘good’ name. We couldn’t say conclusively that he would be happier, but he wouldn’t have worried so much about how others would perceive his name.

We talked about why Ashoke keep his accident a secret from Gogol for so long. I thought he might tell when Gogol wanted to change his name in an attempt to explain why it was so important. We thought it was likely because he wanted to save his children from knowing about his pain. As children, we see our parents as superheroes who are incapable of being hurt. Telling his children too young would have shattered this image for Gogol and Sonia. We did think that betrayal was a bit of an over-reaction on Gogol’s behalf as a result of hearing the story.

Gogol’s life became very ‘anglicized’ and American from a cultural standpoint. He never spoke his parents language and for most of his life, he rejected anything that reminded him of his culture. It seemed that his parents were slightly disappointed in this for a long time and only after the kids grew up were the parents more accepting. Ashima encourages Gogol to make amends with Max at one point and the family is very accepting of Sonia’s non-Bengali husband. After all, Gogol’s ‘perfect’ Indian wedding ended terribly.

Gogol seems to have no luck when it comes to a lasting relationship. He was with Max for a long time, but decided he wanted something more in line with his culture. Then he had Moushumi and she wanted something less in line with her culture and parents. Our group felt that she wasn’t mature enough to be married from the information we have about her and her past with men. There was no mutual ‘finding’ in these characters; they couldn’t find each other at the right times. Gogol has picked the wrong people until the end of the book; nothing’s making him happy.

Mo seemed to seek out her affair, which is one reason our group didn’t think she was mature enough to be in a lasting relationship. At the first signs of her and Gogol disagreeing on something or her feeling restrained by him, she sought out Dimitri; recognizing him by his handwriting. She seemed to have developed this pattern of behavior when she lived in Paris. She didn’t learn how to be in a steady relationship and getting married was no way to figure it out.

One of our questions was how the story would have differed if the people were from less affluent background. We’re not sure the story would have existed in that circumstance. The reason Ashoke came to America is because he had the means to get to the US. The same goes for all the Bengali families, including Moushumi’s. They had the education and money to attend school and be trained for high-paying jobs. Because Gogol enjoyed this lifestyle, he met Max. Without money, the story might have happened in India and that would have been quite a different story altogether.

We were all frustrated with Gogol when he was dating Max and seemingly replaced his family with hers. He was ignoring his mother and father, hiding among Max’s family. He seemed so interested in her family and learning to become a part of it that he didn’t have the energy to devote time to his own family. Many of the people in my group have children of their own and they gave me the great nugget of wisdom that kids don’t realize how much their parents care about them until they have children of their own and can realize how strong the love between parent and child is.

Gogol seemed so disinterested in visiting his family in Calcutta that someone asked if we thought he would take his family to India to see relatives. He was so miserable when they would go visit that we doubted it, but remembered his change of heart after his father died and he was more than willing to go spread his father’s ashes. The sad truth is that Gogol won’t have much family left in India that he knows well and can go back to visit. Most of them have passed away. Ashima lamented this when describing how the party to meet them at the airport grew smaller and smaller each time they’d go back. Even if he wants to go back, there may not be anyone who remembers him well enough to welcome him in.

I really really really loved this book and it was awesome to discuss it with some other bibliophiles who enjoyed it as much! If I can get my hands on a copy of Lahiri’s other novel, I’ll be sure to snatch it up.

ALSO! If you’re interested in joining my on-line book club, please take the time to vote below for our next selection. You can read more about past Read-Alongs here.

 

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection Part II: Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

27 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you’re all getting ready for a big turkey dinner with your families. What a better way to celebrate than the dysfunctional McCullough family.

In an effort for the library to save money, I’ve been able to read Before You Know Kindness with both of my book clubs now. You can read my book review and my earlier Book Club Reflections in these links. And now on to a new discussion!

This discussion was in my ‘edgy’ book club and we debated first if it fit our theme. We thought it was a unique topic to write about. We don’t get a lot of books about vegetarianism and activism in that area, but it’s a far cry from the definitive edgy-ness of China Mieville. In the end we decided it qualified, but was low on the spectrum of Joshua Ferris to Ray Bradbury.

The narration skipped between the heads of many of the main characters. We talked about if this technique helped us know the characters or hindered our enjoyment of it. On a personal note, I enjoyed it. Our group was split. Some found it hard to keep track of all the characters and how they were related to or associated with the others. Some liked getting in the head of all the main players in the story. There was a general feeling that you didn’t get to know the characters as well as we would if one person narrated the tale. Some were more flushed out than others. We found Willow the most flushed out. She was easy to relate to and likable. Sarah was likely the least developed. She was a therapist so she listened well, but she didn’t really talk enough that we could get to know her. We wondered if her reluctance to talk about her problems was a New England mentality. Because we didn’t get into the characters heads as much, we didn’t get a lot of emotion from Nan. It felt like she cared more about how her family looked and what they did more than how they were emotionally. She seemed to care more about the appearance than the fact.

On the topic of too many character, a few people wondered why the EMS woman reappeared in the book. She seemed like a throw-away character when she first appeared and we didn’t see a reason behind her coming back to see Spencer. We wondered if she’d come back a second time, but no such luck. It seemed odd to us.

Spencer showed a lot of person growth as a result of his injury. It saved his family in a way because it forced him to change. At first he was angry and pushed his family away further. He was in denial of his injury and thought things could return to normal. And thank God they didn’t. I’m glad Spencer suffered because it brought him so much closer to his family and helped him connect with them. Would would have thought losing your arm could be so beneficial.

On that note, one member brought up that she thought the resolution between Spencer and Catherine was a bit rushed. For the whole book and before the story begins, Catherine is unhappy in her relationship and I think she felt obligated to stay with Spencer after the accident instead of wanting to. Overcoming all of that resentment seemed to happen really quickly. If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, he might have gone through with the law suit and Catherine would have left him. It was really Charlotte who saved her parents marriage more than Spencer and Catherine being able to reconcile their differences.

Spencer’s vegetarianism and devotion to FERAL were huge points of the story. Knowing what I do about the author, one would expect Spencer’s point of view about animal rights to come across strongly but to still be convincing. We didn’t see that at all in Spencer. We didn’t find him effective in converting others to his style of vegetarianism or in seeing the harm he saw in animal abuse. Spencer was so unappealing through most of the book that his point was less effective. We think Spencer felt important when he was outspoken and could force others to eat what he thought was ‘good.’ He forced his wife and daughter into his beliefs and seemed to think he could do that to the rest of America. We felt the book was rather one-sided and didn’t talk about the benefits of meat and animal products that Charlotte might have needed growing up.

Go meat!

It seems pretty clear that FERAL is a fictional representation of PETA when it comes to extreme measure to protect animal rights. These people were willing to go to court to protect animals like many people would protect their own children. We hated to see Spencer taken advantage of by his company, but that seemed to be what was happening. He was a pawn and either didn’t realize it or didn’t care.

The other character we talked about a lot was Charlotte. She seemed to fit her age more than Willow did. She still seemed pretty sophisticated for her age, but we as mid-Westerners can’t understand a blue-blood New Yorker lifestyle.

Charlotte seemed to have an up-and-down relationship with her father before the accident. She idolized him and we think she saw him as a strong person, which he probably liked. He would spend intense weekends with her, treating her to her favorite things and then be away or busy for a long period of time. She seemed to respect his values, except for her plastic shoes because she wasn’t allowed leather ones. I wonder if their relationship will improve when he’s able to spend more time at home with her.

If Charlotte hadn’t confessed, we wonder if the trial would have happened. If it did, we feel confident Willow would have told the truth because she seemed to have a lot of integrity. We think Nan suspected the girls were drunk but didn’t want to say anything in front of their parents that night and then felt forced to bite her tongue later on. This relates back to her caring more about appearances than about people.

One thing I wanted to make sure was brought up was the casing in the crow’s nest at the end. Some felt that Bohjalian was trying to close some loops and patch holes and that bringing the casing up helped him do that. Personally, I would have preferred if that part was left out. I would have been okay not knowing the truth. A few others felt the same way.

As a side note to my fellow book clubbers, Chris did tweet me back.

We won’t be meeting in December and our January selection is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. So pumped!

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King

13 Nov

In a quick follow-up to my Tuesday review of Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, here’s our book club discussion! And yes, this does mean I’m behind on reviews again. Darn.

I walked into the meeting room and saw the woman across from me holding the movie I was picturing the entire book, The Agony and the Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston. I watched this at a church movie night when I was in high school and I remembered vividly seeing Heston painting while on his back, paint dripping on his face. Of course, that’s not the image King paints. Instead of a lone Heston lying supine, King gives us a Michelangelo with assistants galore who’s standing tall, leaning back.

I believe I was the only attendant who had read the book in its entirety. Many had skipped around and glossed over parts they didn’t care for, but I suffered my self-inflicted curse and finished the whole thing. (I hope this is setting the mood well.) So the basic question: Did you like the book. We tried to put a positive spin on everything. There was a lot of detail and it was well researched, there’s no denying that. King didn’t leave out a single name, even when one can argue he should have. He had a lot of terms used in painting and was able to detail the processes very well. We thought it was interesting that we knew so much about these people because of their letters. A lot of the quotes King used were from letters and there’s a fear that my generation won’t have that because of the digital age. Maybe we’ll be another dark ages.

We talked about who might enjoy this book more than us. Perhaps art history students or friends very interested in either Roman or Catholic history. I think if I were about to go to Rome, this would be more interesting. We saw on the cover that it’s a New York Times best seller. My quick research finds that it reached a high of 22 on the Hardcover Nonfiction list in March 2003. (In the same week, The Devil in the White City by Eric Larson was #3 if that puts it in perspective.) While this is impressive, I understand why I missed it.

One of our members pointed out a passage she found horrific. It comes from the beginning of chapter 19, page 188 in our copies:

The Roman carnival that took place in February of 1510 was even more jubilant and unruly than usual. All of the familiar entertainments were on show. Bulls were released into the streets and slain by men on horseback armed with lances. Convicted criminals were executed in the Piazza del Popolo by a hangman dressed as a harlequin. South of the piazza, races along Via de Corso included a competition between prostitutes. An even more popular attraction was the “racing of the Jews,” a contest in which Jews of all ages were forced to don bizarre costumes and then sprint down the street to insults from the crowd and sharp prods from the spears of the soldiers galloping behind. Cruelty and bad taste knew no bounds. There were even races between hunchbacks and cripples.

This is not exactly the typical church festival. We were shocked at a few of the things King describes as being associated with the church and the Pope. He had illegitimate children and the church went to war. This doesn’t exactly jive with my image of the current Pope, Francis. It’s no wonder that Martin Luther, after visiting Rome, found it unpleasant and was disgusted. In truth, I might be, too. Erasmus, upon returning to London after a Roman visit in 1509, wrote The Praise of Folly in which he mocked Rome under Julius II’s command. It seems very few were as impressed with Julius as he was with himself.

The relationship between Michelangelo and the Pope was really weird to us. The Pope would summon him, and then ignore him for months so that Michelangelo would leave and go back to his family, at which point the Pope would demand he come back. At one point, Michelangelo was throwing boards at the pope to get him out of the chapel. At some point, Michelangelo knew he wouldn’t be fired because he had to finish his work and knew the Pope wanted to see it finished. He took advantage of that relationship more than once.

A lot of emphasis was placed on Michelangelo’s use of the figure. He drew a lot of large and muscular nudes in each of his paintings, making them the central focus of his art more than other artists at the time. It’s interesting to us that he used only male models (and maybe some prostitutes) to do the models, even for women because of the ideas around sexuality at that time. We thought it was really cool that he would study cadavers to learn the structure of bone and muscle. It makes sense that he was very drawn to the figure because of this.

Many of us hadn’t realized that Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, and Michelangelo were contemporaries let alone rivals. We thought it was interesting how King was able to draw so many distinctions between Rafael and Michelangelo. Michelangelo had a terrible self-image and didn’t bathe much while Rafael spent his time with the most beautiful courtesan in Rome It’s a good thing they only competed in fresco and not on a runway.

We continued to be unimpressed with Michelangelo’s family. His father stole money from him twice yet they continued to treat his disrespectfully because he was a craftsman. His brothers, who depended on him to start a business, thought less of him because his painting was considered manual labor. We felt bad for him in light of how his family treated him.

We argued if Michelangelo was more famous for the Sistine Chapel or the David. It’s really a toss-up between these and some of his other great accomplishments. Michelangelo was not confident when he started the ceiling because he didn’t consider himself a painter. He thought of himself more as a sculptor and he would probably consider the David his greatest accomplishment. As he continued to paint, however, he grew more confident. He used cartoons less and painted by freehand more and more. Something he started almost hesitantly is now arguably one of the greatest art works of all time. He didn’t seem to care much for the details at first and things were almost haphazard but as he went, he tied in his own little jokes and flourishes. The only way to learn is practice.

I’ll refer you to my book review for my real feelings on this book. A lot of my fellow readers felt the same way: Good book, not good for book clubs.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

4 Nov

I wish I’d gotten this post out before Halloween, but between moving and failing to unpack for a week, it fell through the cracks. I hope some of you late to your Spooky Reads challenges might consider this title or maybe tuck it away for next year. It was a solid book and after discussing it, I find it even creeper than I did before. You can read my review of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and read on for a great discussion on the book.

Shirley Jackson is a queen of horror writing. You’ve probably read her short story The Lottery and if you haven’t, you should go Google it now. There, now you know what kind of creepy, psychologically twisted writing I’m talking about. Excited? Good

This was Jackson’s last novel. We discussed how she suffered a period of mania toward the end of her life where she locked herself in a room and piled things against the door, refusing to come out. I think the comparison to Merricat and Constance toward the end is unmistakable. Jackson’s writing has a note of disturbing and psychologically insane which makes for a really creepy read.

Merricat was the creepiest of the creepy characters. She seemed younger than the eighteen she claimed to be; thirteen or fourteen at best. However, she’s highly self-sufficient; able to go to town , take care of herself for a day at a time, helping Constance instead of Constance always helping her. Most obviously, she was smart. She knew what poisons to use, she had obviously read enough to know the details of poison roots and plants that could be used to kill. Though the creepiest part about her to me was when Uncle Julian, in his poisoned illusion, told the reader that Merricat was dead. I thought we had a Sixth Sense situation on our hands and was almost disappointed to find out she was alive. Though if you asked her, she lived on the moon. “Why the moon?” we wondered. In truth, it’s as far away as she could get. And when it was first published in 1962, the moon was somewhere only a few, special people could even think of going. It would be seven years before men got there.

The title was a bit strange to us because we didn’t know why they would refer to their house as a castle. It was certainly big enough but doesn’t fit how we usually think of castles. A castle’s main attraction is that it’s reinforced and offers protection to those inside. Toward the end of the book, the house was more of a castle. However, we think that the girls themselves were more ‘castle-like’ and were able to draw up their own walls around themselves and serve as their own protection from the town. They’ve always had to live in their own castle.

When writing, every character has to play a role in the book. Having a character with no purpose or one who does not advance the plot is pointless. So what was the point of Julian? One of us saw him as the Greek chorus in the play. He could bring up topics that Merricat and Constance didn’t want to talk about. He also showed Merricat’s evil streak because we see in the book how she wants to kill him. Innocent, nice girls don’t normally want to kill their uncles. Someone wondered if he really did die of a heart attack, which was what we thought the doctor was implying. Maybe he had a soft spot for Constance and didn’t want her to be accused of murder again. Perhaps Julian died in the fire; a crush or burn instead of a heart attack. If that had been the case, there’s no doubt in my mind that Constance would have been accused of the crime, not letting Merricat take the fall.

Besides there not being any concrete evidence against her, perhaps the Blackwell family wealth got Constance off of the murder charge the first time. She seems like a scared and timid person, but especially around Merricat. She seems to be very afraid of her sister; always giving in when Merricat asks for something. Merricat’s spoiled nature was part of what upset Charles so much.

We wondered if Charles was their lost cousin or if he was a con man looking for a payoff. The girls mentioned a few times how much Charles looked like their father, which makes us think he was a genuine relative, but I’m still suspicious. He would have heard about the family’s tragedy in newspapers and thought to come looking for them We bet he didn’t expect to find Merricat’s emotional state to be as bad as it was. Constance was quick to cling to Charles, wanting something familiar in a world that had been turned upside down.

Charles took over as the traditional patriarch of the family very quickly. He asserted his dominance and changed routines and room arrangements, which drove Merricat crazy. She thrived on knowing how one day and the next would be the same and when Charles forced her away from that, she was angry. A theory of why Merricat did what she did is that she disliked men and wanted the patriarchs of the family gone. This explains why Julian, who’s not a threat to her free will, isn’t a threat to Merricat and why Charles was. Maybe the town only liked him because he’s a man. Merricat was right not to like him and the reader sees this at the end when he returns with the news writer, looking for the safe. Even if he is family, he’s not the relative you want to stay close with.

We talked about if Merricat meant to start the fire. We believe she wanted to start it and hurt Charles, but that she didn’t think through the consequences. The fire would destroy Charles’ room, yes, but it would spread and that’s not something Merricat was ready to think through. Her mind is under developed and part of that must be her ability to foresee consequences of her actions. She didn’t realize it would hurt her as well.

Alright, if you haven’t read the book, stop here. I’m surprised you made it this far, but stop. I’m warning you, this will ruin the end.

Should Jackson have told us that Merricat killed the family? Most of us thought she had before being told. It would have been creepier not to know. We got the impression Constance knew and maybe Julian had an inkling, but they didn’t talk about it. They wanted to protect Merricat, who they knew needed to be care for within the family. She must have had a hard time in the orphanage during Constance’s trial. Jackson did a great job of making Merricat seem relatively normal when she goes into town at the beginning, but it quickly deteriorates and we see her true nature and illness.

I mentioned that one theory as to why Merricat did it is because of her dislike for patriarchy. The town was accepting of Charles because they could understand the patriarchy. When they reverted to a matriarchy again at the end, we wondered if the town would poison them with the food. The other theory is that Constance and Merricat were incestuous and Merricat wanted to be alone with her lover. I can’t get on board with that one. We would like to propose another theory.

Julian mentions at one point that there was a disagreement between Merricat’s parents the morning of the accident (forgive me, I cannot find it in the text). We think they were arguing about sending Merricat away. Maybe both wanted and they couldn’t agree on where or one was against the idea. Either way, Merricat overheard this and it scared her so much to think she’d be away from Constance that she put arsenic in the sugar. Then, when she hears Charles talk about leaving with Constance and leaving her behind, she reacts in a similar way, fighting to be with her Constance. She’s afraid of being away from her and will kill to stay near her sister. She hoped Charles would die, but got her wish regardless.

What a great November read! I recommend it for any other book club hoping to do a themed book.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflection: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

8 May

I know what you’re thinking; “Sam’s in too many book clubs!” But really, is there such thing? And to assuage you, I did not join another book club. Not really. A co-worker recommended that I read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and said I could borrow it after another co-worker had finished it. We joking called it a little book club. Well, if we’re going to call it a book club, we better hold a meeting! And of course, we did. We even had it in a conference room. We used some discussion questions from Lit Lovers to guide our discussion. I’ll refer to them as B and V here for clarity.

We started off with some overall feelings about the book. B loved the language of the book, saying it was beautiful and I have to agree. I think Atkinson’s word choice really helped her paint a beautiful picture of an ugly part of world history. The Blitz was so sad. B warned me that she felt that part of the book dragged and I had to agree. There are so many ways a person can die in a bombing attack and I think Atkinson explored most of them. The prologue to the book was wonderful and kept us pulled in throughout the Blitz, waiting for the events in the prologue to take place. Without it, I think B and I would have given up!

It took us some time to understand what was happening to Ursula. When V picked up the book, she thought it was going to be reincarnation in a more traditional sense; where a single soul is reborn into multiple bodies as time progresses. B and I had similar expectations. It took a few lives for us to understand that Ursula was always going to be born on the same night to the same woman and be given the same name.  Once we understood, we really liked it. Some of her lives were such a drastic change that we were surprised. My favorites were moving to Germany the second time and when she dies a natural death.

One of our favorite things about the book was the characters that surrounded Ursula. So many of the men in Ursula’s life were terrible people, especially the men she was romantically involved with. We suspected that her relationship with them was influenced by her life where she was raped. Even in subsequent lives, she still had a memory of that time and it kept her from becoming close with men. Another theory was that her flippant attitude was influenced by her aunt, who had a similarly care-free attitude toward men. These gentlemen didn’t want an attachment, only a fleeting affair, and Ursula did, too. She saw life as more fleeting because she died so many times and seemed to be more okay with having fun than settling down. In this sense, she was a lot more like her aunt Izzy than her mom.

Pam was a favorite among the three of us. She was such a stable character who loved and supported Ursula in all of her lives. We liked that she had a stable relationship and could give Ursula advice about the terrible men she dated. Pam seemed to be Izzy’s foil, leading Ursula to a bath of matronly bliss instead of delightfully good times.

We talked about the Lit Lovers question, “Though there is an array of possibilities that form Ursula’s alternate histories, do you think any and all futures are possible in Ursula’s world, or are there certain parameters within which each life is lived?” We decided there were definitely things she couldn’t change. World War I was the first example. But on a more broad level, she couldn’t change her family’s personalities. Maurice, Pam, Hugh, and the cook all had the same personalities throughout the book no matter the life. Ursula was only able to learn how to deal with these people. What seemed odd to me is that at the end of the book, Izzy’s child is not given away to a German couple and grows up with the girls instead. How could Ursula have changed that when she wasn’t even born? We wondered if all of the characters were re-living their lives over and over but only Ursula was aware of it. Sylvie talked a lot about repetition which made us wonder why.

I asked if anyone thought Izzy’s child reappeared in Ursula’s lives in Germany. Had she met him and never known it? Or was the idea of the character enough? For a second, I wondered if the man she’d married in Germany was her cousin. V and B didn’t think so, but it did make us wonder about parents who give their child up for adoption. That child will never know if they are one-day meeting relatives of theirs. That’s such a weird thing to think about.

We used the second Lit Lovers question, “As time goes on, Ursula learns more about her ability to restart her life—and she often changes course accordingly, but she doesn’t always correct things. Why not? Do you think Ursula ever becomes completely conscious of her ability to relive and redo her lives? If so, at what point in the story do you think that happens? And what purpose do you think she sets for herself once she figures it out?” We felt that she didn’t always change everything because she couldn’t. Like I said before, there were some things she couldn’t change. She couldn’t stop Pam from getting sick unless she stopped the maid from going to London. She couldn’t stop the maid from going to London, so she changed her reaction to the boyfriend she traveled with. We felt Ursula became fully aware of her ability the second time she went to Germany. She set her purpose to try to eliminate Hitler before Teddy would die. The first time she was in Germany, she didn’t have as many déjà vu triggers and couldn’t react to what was happening around her to stop the war. She was just afraid of it. The second time, she knew she could do something.

Moving on to question four from Lit Lovers, “Do you think Ursula’s ability to relive her life over and over is a gift or a curse? How do you think Ursula looks at it?” We felt it was a curse because of her inability to change so many of the parameters. It would feel torturous to know something bad was going to happen and be at a loss for how to change it. We don’t think Ursula knew how to look at it. It was a blessing because she could try to protect her family, but at the same time she knew all the serious things that were going to happen to her in the coming months.

Question eight is, “How does Atkinson’s humor pepper the story? In what ways is she able to bring a bit of comedy to her characters and their stories as relief from the serious and dark subject matter?” B saw this in the turn of phrase and word choice that Atkinson used. She had a dry sense of humor that made the Blitz scenes a bit easier to read. Ursula had a resilient attitude toward death because she wasn’t afraid of it which allowed her to look at things more objectively and gave her a humorous quirk. Izzy was welcome comic relief through the book that helped brighten a dark tone. We felt that the book was much more lighthearted and funny until the rape scene. After that, things got a lot more serious.

The final question we talked about was number eleven, “On page 379, Ursula faces a bleak end in Germany with her daughter, Frieda. She chooses death over life for the first time, saying, “Something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.” What do you think she means by that? Is this a significant turning point to Ursula’s story? Do you think the end of this life affects her decisions in other lives that follow?” I loved this scene in the book. I almost thought that she wasn’t going to wake up again and that her death was going to be true, but I still had about 100 pages left so that left my mind immediately. We wondered what force was reluctant to let her start again. Possibly it was the Universe, saying that it was not yet her time to go. But if killing Hitler wasn’t her time to go, what was? Maybe Ursula hoped to end the cycle of being reborn, but in that life she had a lot less cognizance of her situation because her déjà vu was so minimal.

I liked the scene where Ursula died a natural death. I thought it was peaceful. The other two disagreed. It seemed weak that she didn’t die in service to England and that she didn’t fight for her life and lose it. Was this how she was supposed to die? Or was she fated to die in the Blitz and this life seemed wrong. I loved hearing the other opinions on my favorite ending.

Before we broke up to get back to work, we contemplated what we would change. B and I couldn’t think of anything and felt that in a time of war, our decisions take on a much stronger significance. We can’t really know what we’d do in a time period like the late 1940s. V thought she might try staying in her home country if she could start her life over. She came to the States  when she was younger and said she’s always wondered what her life would be like if she’d stayed.

I hope we get to do this again, it was really fun.

Reader, if you could change one life decision, what would it be? Why?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!