Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.
About the Author
Anthony Doerr was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the author of the story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall, the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, and the novels About Grace and All the Light We Cannot See, which was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
Doerr’s fiction has won four O. Henry Prizes and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, and The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Fiction. He has won the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize, the Rome Prize, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, the National Magazine Award for Fiction, three Pushcart Prizes, two Pacific Northwest Book Awards, three Ohioana Book Awards, the 2010 Story Prize, which is considered the most prestigious prize in the U.S. for a collection of short stories, and the Sunday Times EFGShort Story Award, which is the largest prize in the world for a single short story. In 2007, the British literary magazine Granta placed Doerr on its list of 21 Best Young American novelists.
Doerr lives in Boise, Idaho with his wife and two sons. Though he is often asked, as far as he knows he is not related to the late writer Harriet Doerr.
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
Official Book Trailer
What Does the Title Mean?
“It’s a reference first and foremost to all the light we literally cannot see: that is, the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum that are beyond the ability of human eyes to detect (radio waves, of course, being the most relevant). It’s also a metaphorical suggestion that there are countless invisible stories still buried within World War II — that stories of ordinary children, for example, are a kind of light we do not typically see. Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focused on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” ~ Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr sees the world as a scientist, but feels it as a poet. He knows about everything—radios, diamonds, mollusks, birds, flowers, locks, guns—but he also writes a line so beautiful, creates an image or scene so haunting, it makes you think forever differently about the big things—love, fear, cruelty, kindness, the countless facets of the human heart. Wildly suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, Doerr’s new novel is that novel, the one you savor, and ponder, and happily lose sleep over, then go around urging all your friends to read—now.
… I first encountered Doerr’s work a decade ago when I picked up a copy of The Shell Collector at a small bookstore in Seattle. I carried the book to a nearby coffee shop and spent the rainy afternoon reading it. I had recently graduated college, and I’m not sure if it was my uncertain future or the gloomy day, but this collection of stories had a profound effect on me. I found a precise kind of truth within those pages—the kind that captures human experience in only the way perfectly crafted stories can. I reveled in those wonderful sentences that afternoon, and since then I have always looked forward to reading Doerr’s work.
… All the Light We Cannot See is a book that was ten years in the making, and it is a remarkable novel, but perhaps more than anything, it has reminded me of Doerr’s extraordinary ability to bring together the elements—rhythm and imagery and tone—to somehow perfectly capture the most mysterious parts of our experience—love and fear and fate—with something so simple as a sentence. … [Read the Interview]
An Evening with Anthony Doerr
A captivating presentation by Anthony Doerr to the John Adams Institute, Amsterdam. A jewel of a speech in itself, the question and answer period with the audience contains profound depth and insight. A definite must-listen!
A Masterpiece. Tremendous. Wow. Overwhelming.
“Just a few characterizations by readers of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. And the literary critics were also unanimous: Anthony Doerr has an immense talent for storytelling.
The story follows a blind precocious French girl and a scientifically minded German boy whose paths intertwine during the German occupation of France. At its core this is the story of two young, innocent children who are forced into the ugliness of war, both of them victims in some way, neither of them innocent for long. Told from their alternating points of view, building the foundation of the story brick by brick and adding layer upon layer, the writing is captivating and stays with you long after closing the book. A “hauntingly beautiful new book,” according to New York Times’ Janet Maslin.
Join us for an evening with one of America’s best storytellers.”
“Among multiple outstanding experiences at Lake Oswego Reads [Feb 12, 2015] (hosted by the amazing Lake Oswego Public Library), an unforgettable highlight was being handed a warm loaf of bread by master baker Dominique Geulin from St. Honoré Boulangerie. I carried it back home, sliced it, and look what we found inside!”
1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?
2. The narration moves back and forth both in time and between different characters. How did this affect your reading experience? How do you think the experience would have been different if the story had been told entirely in chronological order?
3. Whose story did you enjoy the most? Was there any character you wanted more insight into?
4. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?
5. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This . . . is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?
6. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?
7. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are . . . with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?
8. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?
9. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?
10. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?
11. Von Rumpel seemed to believe in the power of the Sea of Flames, but was it truly a supernatural object or was it merely a gemstone at the center of coincidence? Do you think it brought any protection to Marie-Laure and/or bad luck to those she loved?
From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a magnificent novel about two unforgettable American women
Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world—and it is now the newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.
As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
"My body might be a slave, but not my mind. For you, it's the other way around."
This beautiful, moving story of hope and courage stirred my heart and mind through and through. I listened to the audiobook where narrators Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye give a dazzling performance and portrayal of two young women; one white, one black; the same age, the same time period, the same plantation - yet living in two separate worlds of expectations and both yearning for freedom.
The story is rich in symbolism and purpose. "She (mauma) use to say, you got to figure out which end of the needle you gon be, the one that's fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth." I became emotionally connected to these fabulous characters as they took measures to protect their minds and spirits from being broken by society throughout their journeys to stay true to their convictions for human rights. I learned that Sarah and Nina Grimke were true historical figures. I learned about Denmark Vecey, story quilts, and spirit trees. I learned once again that we are all "meant to do something in the world, something larger than (ourselves)".
Read it. You'll love it, too.
About the Author
Sue Monk Kidd lived one of those perfect, small town, southern childhoods (except for the swarm of bees in the walls of her 100-year-old house).
She could walk to the drugstore and charge a cherry Coke to her father. Or to Empire Mercantile and charge a pair of cheerleader socks to her mom. By the time she got home, her parents would know what color socks she’d bought and what size Coke she’d drunk.
But the 1964 Civil Rights Movement changed Sue’s idyll forever. Her high school class became the first to integrate. She was 16 and old enough to understand racism’s cruelty. It stayed with her.
In 1970, Sue earned a B.S. in Nursing from Texas Christian University. She worked as nurse, met her husband, Sanford (Sandy), a Baptist minister, and had two children.
In her 30s, she left nursing for full-time mothering, taught Sunday School, and wrote inspirational essays for Guideposts Christian magazine. They led to her first memoir, God’s Joyful Surprise, published at age 40. Source: Debra Eve's Late Bloomer
In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction. Her short stories appeared in TriQuarterly, Nimrod, and other literary journals and received a Katherine Anne Porter award and citations in Best American Short Stories’ 100 Distinguished Stories.
Since then she has written several bestsellers such as The Secret Life of Bees (2002), The Mermaid Chair (2005), Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story (2009), and The Invention of Wings (2014). Her novels have earned international acclaim and multiple literary awards as well as some having been adapted into award wining movies.
Kidd serves on the Writers Council for Poets & Writers, Inc. She lives in Southwest Florida with her husband, Sandy, and dog, Barney. Source: Suemonkkidd.com
Interviews & Other Cool Stuff
After reading The Invention of Wings, I was motivated to learn more about the author and the Grimke sisters. What inspired her to write the story? Where did her research begin and where did it take her? How did she come up with fictional characters and the structure of the story?
I discovered a lot of interesting booty! I'm excited to share it with you - to take you deeper into, and even beyond the book.
Listen to this short, compelling NPR interview where Kidd offers loads of insight into the inspiration behind the story. Then keep scrolling to learn even more!
January 8, 2014 Heard on NPR:All Things Considered Sue Monk Kidd's new novel is a story told by two women whose lives are wrapped together — beginning, against their wills, when they're young girls. One is a slave; the other, her reluctant owner. One strives her whole life to be free; the other rebels against her slave-owning family and becomes a prominent abolitionist and early advocate for women's rights.
The book, The Invention of Wings, takes on both slavery and feminism — and it's inspired by the life of a real historical figure.
Sue Monk Kidd provides a super cool Book Club Kit on her website that includes a conversation with the author, quotes, and recipes. Here are a few tidbits:
History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own."
~ Professor Julius Lester
I first came upon the Grimké sisters in 2007 while visiting Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Their names were listed on the Heritage Panels, which honor 999 women who’ve made important contributions to western history. Later, I was astonished to discover they were from Charleston, South Carolina, the same city in which I was then living. Somehow I’d never heard of these two amazing women, but I immediately dove in, learning everything I could, and the more I learned, the more excited I became. I discovered that Sarah and Angelina were from a wealthy slave-holding family, at the top of the planter class, moving in the elite circles of society, and yet they broke with everything, their family, religion, homeland and traditions, and became the first female abolition agents in America and among the earliest feminist thinkers. They were, arguably, the most radical females to ever come out of the antebellum South. I fell in love with their story. I was especially drawn to Sarah. I was moved by how thoroughly life was arranged against her and what she overcame, by how deeply she yearned to have a voice in the world, by how utterly human she was, and how determinedly she invented her wings.
I was inspired by the quilts of Harriet Powers, who was born into slavery in 1837 in Georgia. She used West African applique technique and designs to tell stories, mostly about Biblical events, legends, and astronomical occurrences. Each of the squares on her two surviving quilts is a masterpiece of art and narration. After viewing her quilt in the archives of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., it seemed more than plausible to me that many enslaved women, who were forbidden to read and write, would have devised subversive ways to voice themselves, to keep their memories alive, and to preserve their African heritage. In the novel, Charlotte is the Grimke’s rebellious and accomplished seamstress, and I envisioned her using needle and cloth the way others use paper and pen, attempting to set down the events of her life in a single quilt. She appliques it with strange, beautiful images—slaves flying through the air, spirit trees with their trunks wrapped in red thread—but she also sews violent and painful images of her punishments and loss. The quilt in the novel is meant to be more than a warm blanket or a nice piece of handiwork. It is Charlotte’s story. As Handful says, “Mauma had sewed where she came from, who she was, what she loved, the things she’d suffered and the things she hoped. She’d found a way to tell it.
Louise W. Knight, author and historian, provides some great history about the sisters and even addresses the issue of the unflattering "photographs" of the women that are widely associated with them. I was happy to see some different photos of them; ones taken when they were in their 70's (Sarah) and 60's (Angelina). Plus, if you're ever in Charleston, the Preservation Society offers a Grimke Sisters Tour. How cool is that?
Born near the turn of the 19th century, Sarah and Angelina Grimké were white Southern aristocrats of Charleston, South Carolina whose fate at birth seem sealed: by rights they should have married well, mothered many children and managed the slaves who ran their households. Instead, they rejected slavery, which they hated, moved to Philadelphia, and converted to Quakerism, wrongly supposing that it continued to embrace the cause of antislavery. In time, rejected by the Quakers for their reform work, the sisters became social activists in the causes of abolition and ending racial prejudice. Making the principle that no man should have dominion over another man their own, they became the first American women to make a fully developed case against the oppression of women and for women's equal rights.
Sarah Grimké (1792-1873)
Sarah, the older sister, had a scholar's bent, with a judicious mind. Once she established her carefully arrived at conclusions, she never budged, regardless of the consequences. A deeply spiritual person, she was the more tender-hearted of the two sisters. Older by 13 years, Sarah devoted herself to Angelina's care and education to such a degree that Angelina called her "mother" until she reached her twenties. One of the fascinating stories in the book is that of Angelina's influence on Sarah, her beloved and admired sister, at a crucial turning point in their lives. Sarah turned down two marriage proposals, her ambition being aimed in a more unusual direction - that of being a Quaker minister. Sarah was a moderately skilled speaker but her brilliant mind (she had aspired to be a judge, like their father) produced some of the strongest arguments for women's rights ever penned in her Letters on the Equality of the Sexes (1837/1838). She also published a moving pamphlet appealing to Christian ministers of the south to oppose slavery (1837). In 1838, she went to live with the newly married Angelina in Fort Lee, New Jersey, helped raise three children, taught in the schools Angelina and her husband Theodore Weld founded, and continued to engage in social action -- particularly the growing women's rights movement of the 1850s, though rarely in person.
Angelina Grimké (1805-1879)
Angelina was by instinct a woman of action, and a natural prosecutor, ready to make a forceful case. Compelled by her hunger for the truth, she possessed great courage in the face of condemnation. Though a gentle personality, she was also a passionate speaker who could command audiences of thousands with the force of her arguments and her unmatched eloquence. She published an appeal to (white) Christian women of the south to petition state legislatures to end slavery, and an appeal to white and black women of the north to join the abolitionist cause. She also was the first American woman to address a legislative body. The opening of her speech, in support of abolitionist petitions to the Massachusetts state legislature, is posted on this website under "Long form blog." (LINK). When she was 33 years old, and at the peak of her fame as a public speaker and organizer, Angelina Grimké married the nation's most prominent abolitionist speaker and organizer, Theodore Weld. Now Angelina Grimké Weld, she and her sister lived with Theodore for the rest of their lives. They raised three children, founded and taught in many schools, and continued to engage in social action, although in less frequent and less prominent way.
What about Those Famous Pictures of the Sisters?
The images to the left (Sarah, far left, Angelina, immediate left) are widely used, both in books and on the internet. The reason is that for many years they were the only images available. Furthermore, they appear to be of the period when the sisters were active in social change campaigns. The two photos above, less frequently published, were taken when they were much older.
But there is a problem with these images. First of all, although they are frequently described as "photographs," they are not. They are not even daguerreotypes. Rather they are wood engravings based on daguerreotypes that have since disappeared.
Thus the first question to ask about these images is -- Are they accurate as representations? The answer, obviously, is no. Indeed, while I have yet to track down where these engravings were first published, it is very likely they appeared first in a periodical of the 1830s that disapproved of the sisters for being abolitionists and wished to portray them as peculiar and unappealing. This was a common practice of the time -- to draw people as ugly if you disapproved of their politics or, in the case of African Americans, of their race. I see these engravings more as political cartoons than as legitimate representations of the sisters.
In this video adapted from theAmerican Experience: “The Abolitionists,” featuring historical reenactments, learn about the daughter of South Carolina slaveholders who devoted her life to ending slavery and winning equal rights for women. Angelina Grimké and her sister Sarah drew upon their strong religious beliefs from an early age to oppose slavery in their native state and throughout the United States. After moving north, they became prominent writers and speakers in both the abolitionist movement and the struggle to obtain equal rights for women. This resource is part of the American Experience collection.
Book Club Mojo
Our entire reading group enjoyed reading and discussing The Invention of Wings.
We discussed how thankful we are for these women and the sacrifices they made toward equal rights that allow women and black people of today so many more freedoms than were ever experienced in their own time period. We talked of having to repress your aspirations for the sake of societal expectations, the alternating perspectives of the two main characters, Sarah and Handful, the complicated relationships between the characters, and how learning to read is a form of freedom in itself.
The topics led to further discussions about why groups of people oppress other groups of people, and why the oppressors will follow along with such behavior? We noted this to be a common thread among some of the books we've read, for example,The Handmaid's Tale, and yet how slavery and oppression have spanned nearly every culture and nationality from ancient times to the present. The WHY of it remains to be our biggest, unanswered question.
Here's another great way to get some discussion going.
The Invention of Wings is loaded with symbols representing deeply personal and empowering significance to the characters throughout the story. This short presentation by Juliana Bush highlights a few of them such as Sarah's fleur de lis button, needle and thread, Handful's rabbit-head cane, Charlotte's story quilt, and the spirit tree.
And of course, Discussion Questions from the Author!
1. The title The Invention of Wings was one of the first inspirations that came to Sue Monk Kidd as she began the novel. Why is the title an apt one for Kidd's novel? What are some of the ways that the author uses the imagery and symbolism of birds, wings, and flight?
2. What were the qualities in Handful that you most admired? As you read the novel, could you imagine yourself in her situation? How did Handful continue her relentless pursuit of self and freedom in the face of such a brutal system?
3. After laying aside her aspirations to become a lawyer, Sarah remarks that the Graveyard of Failed Hopes is "an all-female establishment." What makes her say so? What was your experience of reading Kidd's portrayal of women's lives in the nineteenth century?
4. In what ways does Sarah struggle against the dictates of her family, society, and religion? Can you relate to her need to break away from the life she had in order to create a new and unknown life? What sort of risk and courage does this call for?
5. The story of The Invention of Wings includes a number of physical objects that have a special significance for the characters: Sarah's fleur-de-lis button, Charlotte's story quilt, the rabbit-head cane that Handful receives from Goodis, and the spirit tree. Choose one or more of these objects and discuss their significance in the novel.
6. Were you aware of the role that Sarah and Angelina Grimke played in abolition and women's rights? Have women's achievements in history been lost or overlooked? What do you think it takes to be a reformer today?
7. How would you describe Sarah and Angelina's unusual bond? Do you think either one of them could have accomplished what they did on their own? Have you known women who experienced this sort of relationship as sisters?
8. Some of the staunchest enemies of slavery believed the time had not yet come for women's rights and pressured Sarah and Angelina to desist from the cause, fearing it would split the cause of abolition. How do you think the sisters should have responded to their demand? At the end of the novel, Sarah asks, "Was it ever right to sacrifice one's truth for expedience?"
9. What are some of the examples of Handful's wit and sense of irony, and how do they help her cope with the burdens of slavery?
10. Contrast Handful's relationship with her mother with the relationship between Sarah and the elder Mary Grimke. How are the two younger women formed-and malformed-by their mothers?
11. Kidd portrays an array of male characters in the novel: Sarah's father; Sarah's brother, Thomas; Theodore Weld; Denmark Vesey; Goodis Grimke, Israel Morris, Burke Williams. Some of them are men of their time, some are ahead of their time. Which of these male characters did you find most compelling? What positive and negative roles did they play in Sarah and Handful's evolvement?
12. How has your understanding of slavery been changed by reading The Invention of Wings? What did you learn about it that you didn't know before?
13. Sarah believed she could not have a vocation and marriage, both. Do you think she made the right decision in turning down Israel's proposal? How does her situation compare with Angelina's marriage to Theodore? In what ways are women today still asking the question of whether they can have it all?
14. How does the spirit tree function in Handful's life? What do you think of the rituals and meanings surrounding it?
15. Had you heard of the Denmark Vesey slave plot before reading this novel? Were you aware of the extent that slaves resisted? Why do you think the myth of the happy, compliant slave endured? What were some of the more inventive or cunning ways that Charlotte, Handful, and other characters rebelled and subverted the system?
16. The Invention of Wings takes the reader back to the roots of racism in America. How has slavery left its mark on American life? To what extent has the wound been healed? Do you think slavery has been a taboo topic in American life?
17. Are there ways in which Kidd's novel can help us see our own lives differently? How is this story relevant for us today?
Pages: 321 / Audio book: 6 hrs 56 min
Published May 13th 2008 by Harper Collins (first published June 1st 2006)
Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.
Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.
On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, Zoe, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with Zoe at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.
A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life...as only a dog could tell it.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
This is an unputdownable story that will touch your heart and your funny bone. It somewhat reminded me of Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom in that it is full of love, compassion, wit, wisdom, and inspiration. Read it, you'll be glad you did.
Garth Stein was born in Los Angeles on December 6, 1964, but spent most of his childhood growing up in Seattle. His father, a Brooklyn native, was the child of Austrian Jewish immigrants, while Stein's Alaskan mother comes from Tlingit and Irish descent. Stein later revisited his Tlingit heritage in his first novel, Raven Stole the Moon.
Stein earned a B.A. from Columbia College of Columbia University (1987) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in film from the University's School of the Arts (1990).
Stein has worked as a director, producer and/or writer of documentary films, several of which won awards. In 1991, he co-produced an Academy Award winning short film,The Lunch Date. He then co-produced The Last Party, a film commentating on the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Stein also produced and directed a documentary about his sister's brain surgery, entitled When Your Head's Not a Head, It's a Nut.
After films, Stein took up creative writing. At one time, he taught creative writing at Tacoma School of the Arts. His published works include three books and two plays.Brother Jones, his first play, was produced in Los Angeles, California in 2005. Garth wrote another play (No One Calls Me Mutt Anymore, 2010) for the theatrical department at his alma mater, Shorewood High School in Shoreline, WA.
Stein was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Seattle, and after spending 18 years in New York City, returned to Seattle where he lives with his wife, Andrea Perlbinder Stein, sons Caleb, Eamon and Dashiell — and the family dog, Comet, a lab/poodle mix. When living in New York, played in a rock band, called Zero Band, that rehearsed but rarely performed.
Interviews, Quotes & More
Garth Stein discusses his novel The Art of Racing in the Rain, a heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.
Seattle author Garth Stein has a new distinction to add to his resume: his best selling book “The Art of Racing in the Rain” has been banned by a Texas high school.
Stein’s acclaimed novel tells the story of an aspiring Seattle race car driver and mechanic struggling with the death of his wife through the eyes of his dog Enzo, who’s convinced he’ll be reincarnated as a human.
“It’s about perseverance, it’s about self reliance and it’s really about how to lead a good life,” Stein tells KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz.
But some parents at Dallas’ Highland Park High School objected to some sexual themes and subject matter. In one section, the driver is falsely accused of sexual molestation by an underage girl who tries to force herself on him.
After a heated school board meeting, the school board ordered the 10th grade English class to stop reading the book, along with six other books considered objectionable, The Dallas Morning News reports.
Stein defends the book, and teaching it to 10th graders, saying even the controversial subject matter was “taken quite seriously and with gravitas.”
“Things do happen in this world that are inappropriate and people get themselves into situations where mistakes are made and things are compromised,” he says.
“I think in 10th grade, it’s time to be able to have these discussions about adult subject matter and I think it’s important to do so in a responsible and thoughtful way.”
Stein says he respects the rights of parents to raise concerns about potentially objectionable content. But he’s concerned the parents in Texas didn’t actually read the whole book.
“I think that somebody pulled out a passage and said look at this and then they passed it around and a bunch of people signed their names to it,” he says.
Stein says he believes in the value of a teacher guiding discussions of challenging or controversial subject matter, but says parents should be involved as well.
“I think the objective is to raise the awareness by having a discussion about these things rather than by suppressing the discussion.”
Stein’s book will be reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers and students. The superintendent of schools there says the process could take several months.
Stein questions the way the situation was handled, although he believes both the parents and teachers involved have the best interests of students in mind.
“They should be teaching their students to raise those objections themselves,” he says of potential concerns. “Maybe what’s going on now will lead to schools evaluating how they choose their curriculum, how the community participates in the choosing of that curriculum.”
He’s hopeful that doesn’t include banning books.
Everyone in our reading group enjoyed this book and the lively discussion. Donna hosted our meeting and prepared a wonderful meal that included Squash Soup and Apple Dumplings. To top it off, she cleverly printed our discussion questions on dogbone-shaped slips of paper. Woof!
Many online sources — Reading Group Guides,Harper Collins, the books publisher, and others — have shamelessly plagiarized one another’s reading guide questions. Here they are, in all their commonality :Some early readers of the novel have observed that viewing the world through a dog’s eyes makes for a greater appreciation of being human. Why do you think this is?
Enzo’s observations throughout the novel provide insight into his world view. For example:
“The visible becomes inevitable.”
“Understanding the truth is simple. Allowing oneself to experience it, is often terrifically difficult.”
“No race has ever been won in the first corner; many races have been lost there.”
How does his philosophy apply to real life?
In the book’s darkest moments, one of Zoe’s stuffed animals — the zebra — comes to life and threatens him. What does the zebra symbolize?
Can you imagine the novel being told from Denny’s point of view? How would it make the story different?
In the first chapter, Enzo says: “It’s what’s inside that’s important. The soul. And my soul is very human.” How does Enzo’s situation — a human soul trapped in a dog’s body — influence his opinions about what he sees around him? How do you feel about the ideas of reincarnation and karma as Enzo defines them?
Do you find yourself looking at your own dog differently after reading this novel?
In the book, we get glimpses into the mindset and mentality of a race car driver. What parallels can you think of between the art of racing and the art of living?
The character of Ayrton Senna, as he is presented in the book, is heroic, almost a mythic figure. Why do you think this character resonates so strongly for Denny?
OTHER DISCUSSION GUIDE QUESTIONS
A deeper plunge of the Internet provides more unique discussion guide questions. The blog Read to Enrich offers these for discussion:
What was your favorite scene in the novel?
Did you like the technique of making Enzo be the narrator? Would the story have worked if the narrator was one of the humans?
Do you think dogs or other animals can really understand humans and have the desire to communicate with them?
Discuss Enzo’s more human characteristics:
His feelings after Eve died (and his animal reaction of chasing and eating the squirrel ) [page 165]
Advising people to learn to listen (page 102)
Can dogs and other animals sense things that humans cannot? Enzo smelled Eve’s cancer well before anyone made a diagnosis.
What did you think of Enzo’s description of communication, “…there are so many moving parts. There’s presentation and there’s interpretation and they’re so dependent on each other it makes things very difficult.” (page 5) Was this a good analysis?
What did you think about Enzo’s analysis of his death? He said about Denny, “He needs me to free him to be brilliant.” (page 5)
The author wrote, “A true hero is flawed. The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.” (page 135) Do you agree? What do you think about the obstacles “being of his own making?” Can you name anyone who you think is a hero? Does he or she fit this description?
About a champion, he wrote “It makes one realize that the physicality of our world is a boundary to us only if our will is weak; a true champion can accomplish things that a normal person would think impossible.” (page 65) Do you agree?
One of Denny’s favorite statements was “…that which we manifest is before us.” (page 43) What did he mean? Do you agree?
The author stated that women and dogs feel pain the same (“tap directly into the pain” page 62) whereas men “are all filters and deflectors and timed release.” (page 63) Is this an accurate description? Do you think there is a difference in how men, women and dogs experience pain?
Regarding the evil zebra, at the end Enzo realizes that the zebra is,“not something outside of us. The zebra is something inside of us. Our fears. Our own self-destructive nature. The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times. The demon is us!” (page 264) Do you agree? Can you think of any examples from other books you have read where the characters were their own worst enemies?
There were many comments in the book about life in general. What comparisons were made between driving a race car and life? Can you add others?
Pages: 256 / Audiobook: 7 hrs 46 min
Published 2006 by Scribner (first published 1926)
The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway's masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway's most unforgettable characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
So This Is Hemingway...
This was my first Hemingway book and I was engaged from the start.
I was amused by the characters, often disturbed by their behavior, and slightly confused that there didn't seem to be a plot to the story. There were no specific descriptions regarding the physical appearance yet the animated conversations gave a real sense of the characters personalities - flighty, self-absorbed, and with no real purpose other than seeking out the next superficial experience, which usually took place at the next bar or cafe. The characters didn't grow into better people and they were ceaselessly drunk and rude.
Yet I could not stop reading it. Why did I like this book so much?
I loved Hemingway's writing style; he conveys so much in so few words. He gives powerful, short descriptions of surroundings and emotions. Even though the characters were rather awful people, I found their banter to be very entertaining. I particularly liked Bill and his discussions about "utilizing" things (often bottles of alcohol) and Brett, so dramatically stating things like, "Oh, please let's not talk about it" and yet she is the only one that continues to "talk about it". There is a lot of symbolism in the story that offers insight and depth to the otherwise aloof characters, but you have to pay attention to pick up on it. I didn't at first and thought the entire story was pretty shallow. Then in contemplation and discussion I began to understand the symbols and was taken aback at how clever Hemingway's writing was. In the end I loved the story and now realize why Hemingway is known as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
Catherine's Rating: ★★★★
I was surprised to find that this book reminds me of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," although I suppose it shouldn't have because the two books were written at nearly the same time by men who were friends. You really get the feel of this "Lost Generation" not really sure of their place in the world. The spare details of the dialog always make you feel as if you walked in midway on a conversation of other people and missed the background and details -- but that is what makes the book more lifelike than many books that over-explain everything for you. With this novel, you really feel like you are sitting there with the characters as they truly are (which is drunk most of the time, so that was a bit tiresome).
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), born in Oak Park, Illinois, started his career as a writer in a newspaper office in Kansas City at the age of seventeen. After the United States entered the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. Serving at the front, he was wounded, was decorated by the Italian Government, and spent considerable time in hospitals. After his return to the United States, he became a reporter for Canadian and American newspapers and was soon sent back to Europe to cover such events as the Greek Revolution.
During the twenties, Hemingway became a member of the group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which he described in his first important work, The Sun Also Rises (1926). Equally successful was A Farewell to Arms (1929), the study of an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter. Hemingway used his experiences as a reporter during the civil war in Spain as the background for his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Among his later works, the most outstanding is the short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman's journey, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat.
Hemingway - himself a great sportsman - liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters - tough, at times primitive people whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society, and who in this confrontation lose hope and faith. His straightforward prose, his spare dialogue, and his predilection for understatement are particularly effective in his short stories, some of which are collected in Men Without Women (1927) and The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938). Hemingway died in Idaho in 1961.
The true story of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is told in Lesley Blume's book, Everybody Behaves Badly. She talks to NPR's Scott Simon about what made Hemingway's book such a breakthrough.
Earnest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" has never been out of print since it was published in 1926 and is universally acclaimed a masterpiece. A few Americans and British ex-pats take a trip to Spain to see the bullfights. They spend the road trip getting drunk, seeing pointless gore, sleeping with and turning on each other to become symbols of what Hemingway's friend Gertrude Stein christened the lost generation that found no meaning in life after the mass losses of World War I.
It's the novel that made Ernest Hemingway a huge literary force, admired, mocked and imitated to this day. But the characters he brought to life were already alive - people close to Hemingway who made that trip to Spain just the year before. Lesley M. M. Blume, a contributor to Vanity Fair, Vogue and The Wall Street Journal, has written the story of the actual trip that led to the literary one - "Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises."
The True Story of the Booze, Bullfights, and Brawls That Inspired Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway’s debut novel gave a voice to the Lost Generation—often by lifting it directly from his affluent expat circle in post-war Paris. A new book by Lesley M. M. Blume recounts the scandalous trip to Pamplona that inspired Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, and the characters from literature’s greatest roman à clef.
BY LESLEY M. M. BLUME | VANITY FAIR | MAY 12, 2016 3:00 PM
In the middle of June 1925, Ernest Hemingway sat down to write. He pulled out a stenographer’s notebook, otherwise used for list-making. The back contained a rundown of letters he “must write”; intended recipients included Ezra Pound—a mentor of his—and his Aunt Grace. Also scribbled there: a list of stories the 25-year-old writer, who had moved to Paris in 1921, had recently submitted to various publications. On this day, he opened the notebook to a fresh page and scrawled in pencil across the top:
ALONG WITH YOUTH
began writing a sea adventure, set on a troop transport ship in 1918 and featuring a character named Nick Adams. Exactly two months earlier, Hemingway had informed Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons, the prestigious publishing house in New York City, that he considered the novel to be an artificial and played-out genre. (Perkins had heard through the grapevine that Hemingway was doing some remarkable writing.) Yet here he was, making a bid to jump-start one.
It was not his first attempt. Hemingway’s literary ambition at this time was seemingly limitless—yet he was still a frustrated nobody as far as the wider public was concerned. He had long been trying to sell his experimental stories to publishers back in the States, with no success. F. Scott Fitzgerald—then the celebrated oracle of the Jazz Age and the friend who had been championing Hemingway to Perkins at Scribner’s—published practically everywhere, but no commercial publication or publisher would touch Hemingway. So far, he’d managed to place stories with small literary magazines; his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems, was published in 1923 in a run of merely 300 copies. When Hemingway’s second book, In Our Time, appeared in 1924, only 170 copies were available for sale.
“I knew I would have to write a novel,” he later recalled. After all, this is what Fitzgerald had done. Before Fitzgerald had published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920, he too had been a regular in the slush pile. After Perkins brought out This Side of Paradisewith Scribner’s, Fitzgerald remembered later, “editors and publishers were open to me, impresarios begged plays, the movies panted for screen material.” This was precisely the sort of success that Hemingway craved, and a blockbuster novel was key.
Already there had been two false starts. When Hemingway and his wife, Hadley, had moved to Paris, four years earlier, he had taken along with him the pages of a starter novel—which Hadley lost in a careless accident, along with most of his other “Juvenilia,” as he described the writings to Ezra Pound. He then hatched and abandoned an idea for another novel, satirizing a dictatorial colleague at the Toronto Star, where Hemingway had worked as a deadline reporter.
Along with Youth was destined to peter out after 27 pages. Hemingway decided that he would simply have to “let the pressure build”: when the moment came, his debut novel would simply happen. “When I had to write it,” he later recalled, “then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice.”
Little did he know that, at that moment, in June 1925, all of the elements were falling into place at last; he was just one fateful event away from getting the material he so desperately needed to join the novel club. With the resulting book—which would come to be called The Sun Also Rises, published 90 years ago this year—Hemingway would capture several coveted prizes: he would essentially broker for mainstream audiences a new era of modern writing, find himself dubbed the voice of a “Lost Generation,” and become launched as an international sensation.
More immediately on the horizon, though, was the month of July, which for Hemingway meant an annual trip to Pamplona, Spain, to take part in the San Fermin bullfighting festival. The bulls had become an obsession over the last few years. “He [first] heard about bullfighting from me,” Gertrude Stein later sniffed, but several friends had played a role in getting him hooked. He had gone to the Pamplona fiesta twice before. The first time, in 1923, it had been a romantic adventure for him and Hadley: at the bullfights, Hemingway had been enraptured (it was like “having a ringside seat at the war with nothing going to happen to you,” he wrote to a friend); Hadley—then pregnant with their son—had sat calmly at his side, stitching clothes for their baby and “embroidering in the presence of all that brutality,” as she later put it.
In 1924, the couple returned with a raucous entourage that included writers John Dos Passos and Donald Ogden Stewart. Pamplona still felt as pure and insular as it had the summer before, untainted by Americans and other tourists.
The town, Stewart wrote later, “was ours. No one else had discovered it. It was vintage Hemingway. It was a happy time.” No one was happier there than Hemingway. “He stuck like a leech till he had every phase of the business in his blood,” Dos Passos recalled, “and saturated himself to the bursting point.” It was a feeling Hemingway insisted his friends share. “[Hemingway] had an evangelistic streak,” Dos Passos went on, “that made him work to convert his friends to whatever mania he was encouraging at the time.”
The Hemingway crew started each sweltering day by slugging black coffee; they then moved on to Pernod. They lost one another in the bacchanal and found one another again—sometimes not until the following day. Every night, the drinking continued until the sun came up or you passed out, whichever came first. Hemingway goaded his friends into the bullring for amateur fights. “Ernest was somebody you went along with, or else,” Stewart noted. Their feats in the ring earned Stewart a few broken ribs and some breathless coverage in newspapers back home.
Hemingway now started rounding up a new fiesta entourage for the 1925 excursion. Stewart agreed to make a return appearance. Another expat who made the cut: the 34-year-old writer Harold Loeb, the product of Princeton (where he boxed and wrestled) and two of New York’s wealthiest and most prominent Jewish families. (Peggy Guggenheim was his cousin.) Loeb met Hemingway at a party in 1924 and became one of his tennis friends and most ardent supporters. In Loeb’s eyes, Hemingway was cool and unpretentious, with “a shy, disarming smile” and a “zest for living.” As he would remember years later, “I thought never before had I encountered an American so unaffected by living in Paris.”
By June 1925, however, Loeb was keeping a secret from his friend: he was having an illicit affair with a British expat named Lady Duff Twysden. One spring afternoon, Loeb had stationed himself at the Select, the Montparnasse café near the Dôme and the Rotonde, working on revisions to a novel. “I heard a laugh so gay and musical that it seemed to brighten the dingy room,” he would later write. “Low-pitched, it had the liquid quality of the lilt of a mockingbird singing to the moon.” He glanced up and spotted a long, lean woman perched on a barstool, surrounded by men. Her light hair had been shorn into a boyish cut; though she sometimes favored rakishly angled men’s fedoras, on this day she wore a slouch hat. A simple jersey sweater and tweed skirt completed the ensemble. Her strong, spare features were devoid of makeup. All in all, it seemed a fairly chaste presentation, almost masculine, yet she was arresting and sexy. This woman had, Loeb thought, a “certain aloof splendor.”
Loeb was merely the latest man intrigued by the charms of Lady Duff: she had been captivating men throughout the Quarter. “We were all in love with her,” recalled Stewart. “It was hard not to be. She played her cards so well.” Lady Duff had acquired her title by marriage, but was soon to lose it: like many other expat ladies in Paris, dubbed the “alimony gang,” she had come to Paris to weather a nasty divorce from an aristocratic husband—Sir Roger Thomas Twysden, a naval officer and baronet—who’d remained back in the U.K. Though a notoriously hard drinker, she handled her liquor admirably for such a fashionably gaunt creature. “I wondered how long she could keep it up without losing her looks,” Loeb wrote.
Despite the English title, there was said to be something feral about Lady Duff; some maintained that she didn’t bother to bathe regularly. She was gregarious—one of the boys—but also exuded an air of unattainability, a necessary attribute for any successful siren. Men followed Lady Duff wherever she went—including Hemingway.
“I [introduced] Hemingway to Lady Duff and the title seemed to electrify him,” claimed Robert McAlmon, an acid-tongued expat writer and editor, years later. After that, Hemingway was seen for weeks on end in Montmartre, buying drinks for both her and her official paramour, Patrick Guthrie, a dissipated thirtysomething Briton who subsisted on checks from his rich mother back in Scotland. Sometimes Hadley joined these excursions with Lady Duff, but they were not happy outings for her. She often burst into tears, and Hemingway would prevail upon McAlmon or their friend Josephine Brooks to take his wife home while he stayed out drinking with Lady Duff.
I am coming on the Pamplona trip with Hem and your lot. . . . With Pat of course,” Lady Duff wrote to Loeb. “Can you bear it?”
Hemingway had written Loeb a jovial note about the upcoming Pamplona trip, promising it would be “damned good.” Now, after a flurry of letters back and forth among Hemingway, Loeb, and Lady Duff, Loeb was left with a “low feeling which I could not shake off.” This feeling was replaced with one of genuine foreboding when he received yet another missive from Lady Duff. “I expect I shall have a bit of time managing the situation,” she wrote, adding, “Hem has promised to be good and we ought to have really a marvelous time.”
Loeb was dumbfounded. Why on earth had Hemingway pledged good behavior? Was he sleeping with Duff now as well?
Hemingway had, in any case, learned about her liaison with Loeb. Their secret had been working its way through the Left Bank gossip mill. When a mutual friend told Hemingway the news, he had been furious. Everyone around the Quarter began to wonder, like Loeb, if Hemingway was sleeping with Lady Duff. The upcoming Pamplona trip was starting to look like a powder keg.
Yet no one backed out. Hemingway, Loeb, and Lady Duff all put on their best poker faces. “By all means come,” Loeb replied to Lady Duff with affected breeziness. He even pledged to escort her and Guthrie to Pamplona.
In the meantime, Hemingway and Hadley dispatched their 21-month-old son, Bumby, to Brittany with his nanny, packed their bags, and left Paris, heading to a quiet, remote Basque village in the Pyrenees called Burguete to kick off the Pamplona holiday with a week of trout fishing. But the trout were in no position to oblige them. A logging company had destroyed the local pools, broken down dams, and run logs down the river. The loggers’ trash was everywhere. Hemingway was in despair over the sight. It was not an auspicious start to the excursion.
Loeb skipped Burguete and went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, where he was to meet Lady Duff and Guthrie. He grew upset the moment Lady Duff stepped off the train onto the platform. Instead of her usual man’s fedora, she was wearing a beret. “I did not like her in a beret,” Loeb grumbled. “Hem usually wore a beret.” Like Hemingway, Guthrie had now been apprised of the Loeb–Lady Duff interlude. Unlike Hemingway, he had no intention of pretending not to know. “Oh, you’re here, are you?” he said, greeting Loeb on the platform with a breezy snarl.
The party immediately repaired to the station bar, which Loeb and Lady Duff had graced together just a few weeks earlier. Three martinis later, Guthrie adjourned to the pissoir. Loeb began to interrogate Lady Duff. Her behavior toward him had changed, he said. What had happened?
“Pat broke the spell,” she told him. “He worked hard at it.”
“I see,” Loeb responded quietly. The trio hired a car for the awkward 50-mile journey to Pamplona. When they reached the Hotel Quintana, where Hemingway had booked rooms for the entourage, Lady Duff and Guthrie went to one room and Loeb to another. Hemingway, Hadley, and the Burguete group arrived the next morning in similarly petulant spirits.
A round of absinthe, a large Spanish lunch, and a walk through the town helped alleviate the atmosphere, but already it was clear that the jubilance of the previous year was probably not going to be repeated. First of all, Pamplona itself had changed. Just as Paris had become overrun with tourists, Pamplona now also included the appalling presence of some of the group’s compatriots. “We were no longer the exclusive foreign participants in the show,” Stewart later observed. “The establishment had caught up with the frontier.”
Rolls-Royces now idled outside the hotel. The American ambassador materialized in a limousine; to Hemingway, the functionary’s presence at the festival seemed particularly intrusive and symbolic of the shift. The town suddenly felt “cluttered and ordinary,” Stewart recalled. “Pamplona seemed to be getting ready for the hand of Elsa Maxwell”—one of the era’s most prominent gossip columnists.
Yet Lady Duff would prove the most disruptive intruder of all. “Someone had left the door open and Eve had walked into my male Garden of Eden,” wrote Stewart. Suddenly, in her presence, “Ernest had changed,” he noted. “Hadley wasn’t the same . . . the fun was going out of everybody.” That is, except for one person: Lady Duff, who looked especially beautiful and aloof that first morning in a broad-brimmed Spanish hat.
e next day, everyone scraped themselves out of bed in time to see the bulls driven from their corral to the stadium, with the usual crowd of men scrambling ahead of the herd. When the bullring was opened for the amateur hour, Hemingway, Loeb, and Hemingway’s childhood friend Bill Smith leapt in. The press corps was on hand, including photographers.
Hemingway, wearing a beret and white pants, got right down to the business of baiting the bulls. One bull knocked Smith down; it then turned and faced Loeb, who took off his sweater and waved it at the animal. The bull charged; its horn caught the sweater, which dangled from the bull’s head as it then galloped around the arena.
The real bullfights began that afternoon. In front of the Hemingway crew, a bull gored a horse, which took a death-throes run through the arena, trailing its intestines. At another point, a bull tried to escape by jumping over the wall surrounding the ring. “Perhaps he felt that it wasn’t his party,” Loeb said. He became increasingly dismayed by the spectacle; he even “considered oléing the bulls that refused to charge,” he recalled. “It seemed, in some obscure way, shameful.”
After the fight, the entourage reconvened on a café terrace. The fiesta was in full swing. Hundreds of people filled the main square, along with the relentless thump of drums and shrill piping of fifes. Hemingway asked Loeb what he thought of his first bullfight. When Loeb replied that he was not “too keen on the theme,” Hemingway was predictably unsympathetic. “We all have to die,” Loeb told him, “but I don’t like to be reminded of it more than twice a day.”
“Balls,” Hemingway said, and then turned his back on him. Being less than reverential about bullfighting was one of the surest ways to antagonize Hemingway. The only worse offense might be stealing the limelight from him. Later, when Hemingway, Guthrie, and Stewart were swept up in a parade streaming in an endless circuit around the square, Loeb began to quiz Hemingway’s old friend Bill Smith. “Hem seems to be bitter about something,” he ventured. Smith cut to the chase. Hemingway was angry about Loeb’s fling with Lady Duff. When Loeb pressed Smith about whether Hemingway was also in love with Lady Duff, Smith refused to give a straight answer. The conversation abruptly ended when Loeb realized that Lady Duff and Hadley—sitting together at the far end of the table—had gone silent. Loeb quickly changed the subject. If Hadley had indeed overheard the chat and entertained her own suspicions about a possible affair between her husband and Lady Duff, she appears to have kept them to herself.
In the morning, Hemingway, Loeb, and Smith headed back to the bullring for amateur hour. To spare his wardrobe any further indignities, Loeb came armed with a hotel towel. This time when a bull charged him, there was no chance to get out of the way. Loeb dropped the towel, and as the bull lowered its head to butt him, Loeb turned around, grasped its horns, and sat on the bull’s head.
The bull loped across the arena and eventually tossed Loeb into the air. Miraculously, he landed on his feet, as though the entire episode had been a choreographed stunt. The crowd went mad; photographers caught his moment of glory. Hemingway, not to be outdone, then emerged from the sidelines and approached a bull from behind. He grabbed the animal and then managed to catch hold of its horns and wrestle it to the ground. The other amateur bullfighters closed in on the downed bull. “For an instant it looked as if they would tear the animal’s limbs off,” Loeb reported in horror, but ring attendants came to the rescue.
Yet despite Hemingway’s herculean feat, Loeb was the king of the ring, treated like a hero around town. Apparently the locals were in awe of the first man (or the first foreigner, anyway) in living memory who had ridden a bull’s head. His newfound fame even carried across the Atlantic: pictures of Loeb perched atop the bull, legs scissoring in the air, eventually appeared in New York publications. Hemingway had been outshone—and by a man who scoffed at the whole sport.
But Loeb’s heroics weren’t enough to win Lady Duff back. She visited him in his room before lunch that day and told him that she was sorry he was having such a tough time on her account. She was worth it, Loeb replied and tried to embrace her, only to be rejected yet again. He thought of leaving Pamplona, but it would look as if he was running away.
That evening he cornered Lady Duff in the Plaza del Castillo and finally persuaded her to come have a drink alone with him. They walked off together to a small café and then got swept into a private party in one of the buildings overlooking the plaza. As the festivities stretched into the night, Loeb unsuccessfully tried to wrench Lady Duff away from the party. He drank himself into oblivion and woke up the next morning in his bed with no memory of having come back to the Hotel Quintana.
Loeb staggered out to meet Hemingway and the crew for lunch. Guthrie was in an ugly mood, Hadley had lost her kindly smile, and Smith wore a grim look. Lady Duff turned up later, accessorized not with a beret or a fedora, but rather with a black eye and a bruised forehead. Loeb demanded to know what had happened to her, but before she could respond, Hemingway interrupted, saying that she had fallen. No one else—including Lady Duff—offered an explanation, and Loeb made no further inquiries. Once again he considered leaving the fiesta, but once again he was afraid of looking like a coward. He stayed put.
As usual, Loeb noted, “there was too much lunch.”
The one bright, joyous presence in that week was Hemingway’s new friend, Cayetano Ordoñez, a 19-year-old matador who had been thrilling aficionados throughout Spain. “He was sincerity and purity of style itself with the cape,” Hemingway wrote of him later, adding that he “looked like the messiah who had come to save bullfighting if ever any one did.” When Ordoñez was awarded a bull’s ear after a particularly good corrida, he gave it to Hadley. “[She] wrapped it up in a handkerchief which, thank God was Don Stewarts [sic],” Hemingway reported to Gertrude Stein. Hemingway, however, was probably less than delighted when Ordoñez praised Loeb’s performance in the ring.
On the second-to-last evening in Pamplona, Hemingway informed his friends that Ordoñez had assured him that the following day’s bulls were going to be the best in Spain. They were all were sitting around a café table in the square after dinner, drinking brandy. As Loeb recalled, Hemingway then turned to him and said, “I suppose you’d like it better if they shipped in goats.” Loeb was close to losing his temper. He responded that while he didn’t dislike bullfighting he simply sympathized with the victims. Guthrie snickered. “Our sensitive chum is considerate of the bull’s feelings,” he said. “But what about ours?”
The situation was coming to a head. Hemingway accused Loeb of ruining their party. Guthrie sputtered “Why don’t you get out? I don’t want you here. Hem doesn’t want you here. Nobody wants you here, though some may be too decent to say so.”
“I will,” Loeb replied, “the instant Duff wants it.” Lady Duff quietly turned to him. “You know that I do not want you to go,” she said. “You lousy bastard,” Hemingway exclaimed to Loeb. “Running to a woman.”
Loeb asked Hemingway to step outside. Hemingway followed him. Loeb was scared to fight his friend in the dark. Firstly, Hemingway outweighed him by 40 pounds. Secondly, Loeb could usually tell when Hemingway’s punches were coming by the way his pupils “jiggled,” and in the dark he wouldn’t be able to see his eyes. Perhaps more disorienting was the realization that Hemingway had gone so quickly from being a close friend to a “bitter, lashing enemy.” The two men marched toward the edge of the plaza and walked down a few steps onto an ill-lit street. Loeb took off his jacket and slipped his glasses in the side pocket. He squinted around, looking for a safe place to put the garment.
“My glasses,” he explained to Hemingway. “If they’re broken I couldn’t get them fixed here.”
To Loeb’s surprise, he looked up and saw Hemingway smiling. It was a boyish, contagious smile—and even in that moment, that grin made it hard for Loeb to dislike him. He even offered to hold Loeb’s jacket. Loeb then offered to hold his. Their mutual rage seeped away. The men unclenched their fists, put their jackets on, and walked back through the plaza. “Duff,” Loeb later wrote, “no longer seemed to matter.”
The next morning, Loeb received a note from Hemingway. “I was terribly tight and nasty to you last night,” he wrote. He wished that he could wipe out what had happened, he went on, adding that he was ashamed of his behavior and of the “stinking, unjust uncalled for things I said.”
Loeb turned up at lunch and afterward accepted Hemingway’s apology in person. He hoped they could be friends as before, he told him. “But I knew we wouldn’t be,” he wrote later. He couldn’t have guessed that Hemingway would soon do something that would link them for the rest of their lives and beyond.
Mercifully, it was time to depart. Stewart, who was heading next to Sara and Gerald Murphy’s villa on the Riviera, later wrote, “It occurred to me that the events of the past week might make interesting material for a novel.” He was not the only one to think so.
For Hemingway, the events in Pamplona had become practically priceless. Here was the heaven-sent trigger he had been waiting for. “Let the pressure build,” he had told himself. “When I had to write [a novel], then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice.” He had now reached that point. Just when the pressure surrounding him as a virtually unknown writer had built to an almost intolerable level—financial woes, living with Hadley in squalor, fears of obscurity, excruciating writer’s block—Lady Duff Twysden had saved the day. As Hemingway watched her at the fiesta—a jezebel in Arcadia, manipulating her suitors like marionettes—he knew that he had figured out the puzzle at last.
A story began to shape itself in Hemingway’s mind—the intense, poignant story that, in short order, would become The Sun Also Rises. Suddenly every Pamplona confrontation, insult, hangover, and bit of frazzled sexual tension took on literary currency. Once he started working, he could not stop. He and Hadley moved into the Pensión Aguilar, in Madrid, where he wrote furiously in the mornings. During the afternoons, he went with Hadley to the bullfights. The next morning he would begin again. “Have been working like hell,” he reported to Bill Smith a week after the fiesta had broken up.
By early August, he started letting it be known that he was officially about to join the novel club. Expatriate bookseller and publisher Sylvia Beach, of the bookstore Shakespeare and Company, was the first to get the news. “I’ve written six chapters on [sic] a novel and am going great,” he wrote to her. By that time, he and Hadley had moved on to Valencia; they had seen 17 bullfights, and he had completed 15,000 words on loose-leaf paper. His handwriting—smooth, even, and upright—belied the urgency with which the story poured out of him.
Hemingway’s tale was a précis of dialogue and events that had gone down in Pamplona—from his conversations with Quintana and Ordoñez to his aversion to the American ambassador to the affair between Lady Duff and Loeb, who, he wrote, “was in love with Duff and she had slept with him while Pat was away in Scotland and told Pat about it and it had not seemed to make any difference but now whenever he got drunk he kept coming back to it. She had slept with other men before but they had not been of Harold’s race and had not come on parties afterwards.”
l of the Pamplona entourage appeared under their own names in this draft. Guthrie was depicted as drunk and belligerent, repeatedly informing Ordoñez that “bulls have no balls.” Stewart was the resident jester. Lady Duff smoldered and quipped and undressed the handsome Ordoñez with her eyes; her probable corruption of the young bullfighter—and her corrupting potential in general—promised almost unlimited dramatic potential.
Not only did the book depict in painful detail events that had transpired in Pamplona (and Paris), but vast swaths of their personal backgrounds had been blatantly used as the characters’ biographies. Hemingway generally declined to warn his characters’ real-life prototypes that they were about to star in his big literary coup. But one evening he leaked the news to Kitty Cannell, the expat fashion writer who happened to be Loeb’s former girlfriend (and another one of the novel’s unwitting models). Back in Paris, some of the Pamplona crew gathered for dinner one night to make amends. Nerves were still raw from the fiesta, which had concluded nearly two months earlier. After dinner, the group walked to a café. Hemingway and Cannell were strolling together when he suddenly made a startling admission. “I’m writing a book,” he told her. “Everybody’s in it. And I’m going to tear these two bastards apart,” he added, indicating Loeb and Smith, who were walking along nearby. Furthermore, Hemingway informed her, “that kike Loeb is the villain.”
In due time, they were all assigned their familiar fictional names, but they remained identifiable. Loeb was the hapless, insufferable Robert Cohn. Lady Duff was translated into the glamorous but anguished Lady Brett Ashley. The caricature permanently branded her as an “alcoholic nymphomaniac” as Hemingway would later unapologetically refer to her. Stewart and Smith were combined into the wry Bill Gorton. Guthrie became Mike Campbell. Hemingway poured in details about his friends’ failed past marriages, college sporting activities, speaking idiosyncrasies, and assorted indiscretions.
He also inserted a version of himself into the manuscript, at first under the name Hem. The character would become Jake Barnes. In Hemingway’s pages, both Loeb/Cohn and Hemingway/Jake fall in love with Duff/Brett. And in Hemingway’s pages, Loeb/Cohn has an affair with Duff/Brett, which drives a wedge between Loeb/Cohn and Hemingway/Jake, who happens to be impotent, thanks to a war wound.
It was a bold decision to make about a character who would surely be read as the author’s alter ego—especially one created by a writer known for goading friends into bullrings. Hemingway eventually downplayed the gravitas of his choice. “Impotence is a pretty dull subject compared with war or love or the old lucha por la vida [life struggle],” he would later write to Max Perkins. But Jake’s impotence made it clear that Hemingway was willing to take wild risks—even ones that might even compromise his personal dignity, for there would certainly be assumptions that he had based Jake’s condition on Hemingway’s own well-known wartime injuries. Though he had already been enjoying an almost aggressively masculine image—one that was about to prove immensely bankable—he would be the first to challenge that image if doing so would serve his art.
He soon put this loose-leaf draft aside, but a good deal of material from these first pages would eventually be transplanted wholesale into The Sun Also Rises. His vision was startlingly clear from the beginning. Earlier that spring, Hemingway had described his ingenious something-for-everyone writing formula to publisher Horace Liveright, who had brought out his collection In Our Time: “My book will be praised by highbrows and can be read by lowbrows,” he had written. “There is no writing in it that anybody with a high-school education cannot read.”
The Sun Also Rises—which Scribner’s would publish in October of 1926 to rapturous reviews (The New York Times would call it “an event”)—magnificently showcased Hemingway’s “highbrow-lowbrow” formula. Its terse, innovative prose would titillate the literary crowd, and the simplicity of the style would make it accessible to mainstream readers. “It is a hell of a fine novel,” Hemingway wrote to an editor acquaintance before the book came out, adding that it would “let these bastards who say yes he can write very beautiful little paragraphs know where they get off at.”
He was right. With the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s generation—the generation Fitzgerald had written about in The Great Gatsby the year before—was informed that it was not giddy after all. It was simply lost. The Great War had ruined everyone, so everyone might as well start drinking even more—preferably in Paris and Pamplona. Back in America, the college set gleefully adopted the label of “the Lost Generation,” a term that Hemingway borrowed from Gertrude Stein and popularized with his novel, using it as an epigraph. The Sun Also Rises became the guidebook to youth culture. Parisian cafés teemed with Hemingway-inspired poseurs: the hard-drinking Jake Barnes and the studiously blasé Lady Brett Ashley became role models. The reason this pioneering youth movement still shimmers with dissipated glamour has a lot to do with The Sun Also Rises.
No one seemed a better representative of that lost world than Hemingway himself, thanks to the public-relations machine that plugged him as a personality along with his breakthrough novel, which would sell 19,000 copies within the first six months of its publication. (By the time of Hemingway’s death, in 1961, an estimated one million copies had been sold.) Those charged with marketing Hemingway’s work were aware of their good fortune: in a sense, they were getting two juicy stories for the price of one. It quickly became apparent that the public’s appetite for Hemingway was as great as that for his writing. Here was a new breed of writer—brainy yet brawny, a far cry from Proust and his dusty, sequestered ilk, or even the dandyish Fitzgerald. Charles Scribner III, a former director of Scribner’s, which published both Fitzgerald and Hemingway for the majority of their careers, said that Fitzgerald “was the last of the romantics. He was Strauss.” Hemingway, by contrast, was Stravinsky. In him, a truly modern literature had arrived.
The portraits would haunt Lady Duff and the others for the rest of their lives. (Duff would die of tuberculosis in Santa Fe in 1938.) But, for Hemingway, his friends were simply collateral damage. After all, he was revolutionizing literature, and in every revolution some heads must roll. And if readers weren’t interested in a revolution, they still got a scandalousroman à clef featuring dissolute representatives from the worlds of wealth and ambition.
“There is a lot of dope about high society in it,” Hemingway wryly noted. “And that is always interesting.”
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” was almost called something else.
Early title contenders were “Fiesta: A Novel” (as the book was subsequently known in England), “Two Lie Together,” and even “For in much wisdom is much grief and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow”—a line that, like the winning candidate, comes from Ecclesiastes, and that, it is safe to assume, Hemingway might have abridged further if he’d used it. The evidence for these alternatives comes from early notes and manuscripts, which are included in a new edition of the novel, published this month.
There are signs of other felicitous decisions. The real-life socialite Lady Duff Twysden was given a better name, Brett Ashley. Maudlin dialogue was struck, as when the ill-starred Brett says to Jake Barnes, the narrator, “I love you and I’ll love you always.” (In the finished text, lines like “Well, let’s shut up about it” are more in the spirit of their unconsummated affair.) And Hemingway settled on a perfect final line. After Brett says, “Oh Jake . . . we could have had such a damned good time together,” the author at first had Jake respond, “It’s nice as hell to think so,” but later scribbled “Isn’t it nice to think so.” By the time the manuscript went to the printer, it had been altered again, to the sharp and sad and perfectly balanced “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Early drafts of the book are well known to scholars, and are available at the Hemingway Collection, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, in Boston. But this new edition puts them in handy appendices, giving us lay readers a sense of Hemingway’s writing process, and, more importantly, of how different a novel “The Sun Also Rises” might have been.
All of Hemingway’s major changes to his manuscript move it toward a greater simplicity. In early drafts, the novel began in the middle of the story, at the bullfights during the festival of San Fermín, in Pamplona. Later, Hemingway opted for a more straightforward, chronological order, introducing the American expats Jake, Brett, and Robert Cohn in Paris, before they travel to Spain. In the manuscript that he sent to his editor at Scribner, Maxwell Perkins, the first two chapters detailed the characters’ histories and motivations. “This is a novel about a lady,” it began:
Her name is Lady Ashley and when the story begins she is living in Paris and it is Spring. That should be a good setting for a romantic but highly moral story. As everyone knows, Paris is a very romantic place. Spring in Paris is a very happy and romantic time. Autumn in Paris, although very beautiful, might give a note of sadness or melancholy that we shall try to keep out of this story.
It is diverting to consider how the novel would have been different if Brett were indeed the main character and the heroine—if it really were a story about a lady, rather than about the various men who loved her, or couldn’t. But more intriguing still is the second part of the opening, in which Hemingway breaks into the narrative to address the reader directly, and, in so doing, calls out the artifice implicit in the writing and reading of fiction. It is a wink at the marketplace—readers want lively, lighthearted tales from abroad—and alludes to the novel’s central dark, repeated joke: that everything awful in life, in all of its sadness and melancholy, is better laughed at.
Later, in another section that was cut, Hemingway writes:
I did not want to tell this story in the first person, but I find that I must. I wanted to stay well outside of the story so that I would not be touched by it in any way, and handle all the people in it with that irony and pity that are so essential to good writing.
Jake Barnes was named Hem in the early drafts, and in the version he sent to his editor, Hemingway retained the conceit that the book was not merely based on his real-life experiences but was actually a memoir: “I made the unfortunate mistake, for a writer, of first having been Mr. Jake Barnes.”
All of this was cut at the suggestion of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, after reading the version that Hemingway had sent to Perkins, wrote a long, dismayed-sounding letter to Hemingway, in which he said, “I think that there are about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbings-at-nothing that mar the whole narrative up to P. 29 where (after a false start on the introduction of Cohn) it really gets going.” Though Hemingway would later downplay Fitzgerald’s editorial influence, the published novel begins with the sentence: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
In the letter, Fitzgerald also criticized Hemingway for injecting his own writerly persona into the text: “That biography from you, who allways believed in the superiority (the preferability) of the imagined to the seen not to say to the merelyrecounted.” With this fragment of a sentence, Fitzgerald gives Hemingway the familiar writing-class advice—show, don’t tell; less is more; and what is left out can sometimes be more meaningful than what is included. Earlier versions of the novel contained even more of this “biography”; Fitzgerald had caught the remnants of nervous self-consciousness that Hemingway himself had curtailed as he wrote.
There are several striking examples, in the drafts, of this uneasiness. After a digression about a washed-up but popular bullfighter, Hemingway writes: “Well none of that has anything to do with the story and I suppose you think there isn’t any story anyway but it sort of moves along in time and anyway there is a lot of dope about high society in it and that is always interesting.” Later, after describing the habits of his social set: “I don’t know why I have to put all this down. It may mix up the story but I wanted to show you what a fine crowd we were.” These moments, which did not survive the editing process, have a superficial confidence, an edgy bravado, but they are also anxious, the sign of a writer trying to figure out where his voice fits in among those of his characters.
The meatiest example of this kind of curious metafiction is in the second chapter of the novel’s first draft. Hemingway writes:
Probably any amount of this does not seem to have anything to do with the story and perhaps it has not. I am sick of those ones with their clear restrained writing and I am going to try to get in the whole business and to do that there has to be things that seem as though they did had nothing to do with it just as in life. In life people are not conscious of these special moments that novelists build their whole structures on. That is most people are not. That surely has nothing to do with the story but you can not tell until you finish it because none of the significant things are going to have any literary signs marking them. You have to figure them out for yourself.
At the start, it seems, Hemingway was attempting to write a novel very different from what would become “The Sun Also Rises,” which made his name as one of “those ones with their clear restrained writing.” He imagined a book in which the “whole business” of life gets expressed, in all of its messy detours and associations. In the same draft chapter, Hemingway goes on: “Now when my friends read this they will say it is awful. It is not what they had hoped or expected from me. Gertrude Stein once told me that remarks are not literature. All right, let it go at that. Only this time all the remarks are going in and if it is not literature who claimed it was anyway.”
This minor manifesto, embedded in a draft of his first novel, conceives of a book with greater intellectual and artistic ambitions than Hemingway ever produced—one akin to the more abstract fictions of the modernists. The line that he struck through—“It is not what they had hoped or expected from me”—becomes a potentially radical departure that Hemingway never realized, and that was nearly lost to history. Yet “The Sun Also Rises” is far from being a lesser thing, for all of its restrained clarity. It is partly a book of “literary signs,” perhaps against Hemingway’s own intentions. But it is also a book—Gertrude Stein be damned—of remarks, both in the elliptical declarations that the characters make to one another, and in the weighted silences that linger between them. “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.” That line, which belongs to the narrator, and to the author, was there from the beginning. It is an echo of Hemingway’s more eager and brash equivocations in the drafts, a claim that there was an unseen depth to his plainspoken prose. It is an author’s note, a statement of purpose—subtly and skillfully absorbed into the art of storytelling.
Ian Crouch is a contributing writer and producer for newyorker.com. He lives in Maine. ~
1. When Jake Barnes rebuffs the prostitute Georgette because he is "sick," she says, "Everybody's sick. I'm sick, too" (p.23). Is Georgette's observation an appropriate description of the people in the novel? Why is Jake's emasculating wound such an effective symbol?
2. When Jake and Bill walk during the Paris evening looking at Notre Dame, watching young lovers, and savoring cooking smells, Jake asks whether Bill would like a drink. Why does Bill respond, "No...I don't need it" (p. 83)? Why does Jake say that for Cohn the Bayonne cathedral was "a very good example of something or other" (p. 96)?
3. Is Jake and Bill's fishing trip to Burguete relevant to the epigraph from Ecclesiastes? How do their conversations in Burguete differ from those they have back in Pamplona? How do Robert's, Mike's, and Brett's absences from the fishing trip set them apart from Jake and Bill? Why is the Englishman Harris included in the Burguete scene?
4. How would you describe Jake Barnes's relationship with Brett? Does he love her; understand her? Is his view of Brett constant? How does he see her at the close of the novel? What does he mean when he says, "Isn't it pretty to think so," when Brett tells him that they "could have had such a damned good time together" (p. 251)?
5. If Hemingway's novel is about "the lost generation," do we conclude that all five of the persons who have gone to Pamplona are lost? Is there evidence that moral or spiritual cleansing ever takes place in the novel?
After Reading the Novel
It would be difficult to overstate the remarkable influence of The Sun Also Rises upon its millions of readers. Not only did Hemingway's novel influence our prose and our conduct, it introduced Paris and Pamplona to many of us and made them so real that when we visit them, we feel as if we are returning for a closer look rather than seeing them for the first time. Several guides to Hemingway's Paris, complete with maps, photographs, and walking tours are in print which would provide your group with an opportunity to follow Jake Barnes's footsteps down the little side street Rue Delambre at the intersection of the Boulevard Raspail and Montparnasse to the Dingo Bar, where Jake and Brett had drinks, and Ernest Hemingway met Scott Fitzgerald for the first time in the spring of 1925. Guidebooks will also lead you through narrow streets of Pamplona where the bulls run and along Paseo Hemingway to the bullring, where a bust of the famous writer stands, bearing a statement of gratitude to him from the people of Spain.
Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.
Published November 1st 2000 by Big Moon Traders
One of the classic biographies of a western outlaw, LAST OF THE BANDIT RIDERS has been reprinted in a large trade edition, with dozens of photographs, maps, newspaper accounts and letters added to the original text. The book features a letter written by Butch Cassidy and sent to Matt Warner along with three photographs in 1937, providing a convincing argument that Butch returned from South America and lived out his life in the United States.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★★
Marvelous True Tales of the Old West
I loved this book. It is full of photographs, letters, maps, documents, and exciting recollections of nostalgic times in the Old West. It reads like a collection of tall tales but they are confirmed true events in history.
A man who has had an outlaw past is never safe, no matter how straight he goes afterwards. That's the price he pays. Something out of his past life may raise up against him and wreck his life any time."
Willard Erastus Christiansen, alias Matt Warner, was born on April 12, 1864 in Price, Utah and gives us his personal account of living the outlaw life when horses were the major mode of transportation. He tells of:
his adventurous exploits from cattle rustling to robbing banks to train holdups and dynamiting safes with outlaw friends that include Butch Cassidy and Tom McCarty
near death brushes with the law
marriage and children and attempts to leave the outlaw life and how past wrong deeds follow a man, making it nearly impossible to lead an honest life
navigating a rapidly changing world that includes railroads and telegraphs; where money and lawyers can save your skin better than a jailbreak can
dealings with corrupt lawmen and honest lawmen and what it takes to reform a bandit
touching relationships inside and outside the law
what became of his outlaw friends and most particularly, that Butch Cassidy did not die in South America but returned to the USA and lived a long life
of keeping a vow to live an honest life and doing so for nearly 40 years as "one of the best Deputy Sheriffs, police officers, and Justices of the Peace Carbon County has ever known."
This is a rousing, extraordinary look at life on the wrong side of the law during the late 1800's that stretches from Utah to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. It is a marvelous piece of our regional history.
Historic Photos, Maps, and More
Willard Erastus Christianson, alias Matt Warner, age 16, 1880
Robert LeRoy Parker, alias Butch Cassidy, Parker was born 15 April 1866 in Beaver, Utah, and was raised by Mormon pioneer parents on a ranch near Circleville, Utah
While they were charged with first-degree murder, Matt Warner and Bill Wall were convicted only of manslaughter
Robbers Roost was a popular outlaw hideout for over 30 years
Main Street of Vernal, Utah, c. 1900, several years after Matt Warner and Bill Wall were threatened with vigilante justice. To protect the prisoners, they were removed from jail and taken overland to Carter, where they boarded the westbound train. They were taken to Ogden, where they were tried for the killings.
From January 21, 1900, until his death on December 21, 1938, Matt Warner stayed within the bounds of the law.
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What did you learn from reading this book?
Was there anything that you found surprising?
Was there something in the book that you related to?
Were there specific passages that struck you as significant—or interesting, profound, amusing, illuminating, disturbing, sad…? What was memorable?
What do you think Matt Warner's overall message was throughout this book?
Do you believe that Butch Cassidy returned to the US and lived a long life?
What happened to Matt Warner's first daughter, Hayda?
Have you visited any of the areas along the Outlaw Trail?
Pages: 849 / Audio: 30 hrs 44 mins
Published November 8th 2011 by Scribner
Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out.
President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★★
I was completely engrossed in this story - I could not put it down! And that's saying a lot because it is a big book; 849 pages that flew by! If you're like me and have avoided Stephen King's books because they are typically full of horror, rest assured this is one is not typical. It is a fascinating story about an ordinary guy experiencing extraordinary events and trying to set things "right". It takes you along for his journeys from 2011 to the time of "ago", 1959-1963, and what happens when you try to change the "obdurate past". There were several times I thought I knew where the story would go and each time I was completely surprised by the unexpected twists. It is a fascinating, exciting, and often touching story that captivated my attention and left me completely satisfied. At the end, I especially enjoyed the author's personal notes to the reader, wherein he gives additional details of his research - which began in the 1970's!
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Doctor Sleep and Under the Dome, now a major TV miniseries on CBS. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947 and grew up in Durham, Maine. He attended the University of Maine at Orono, where he wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper, The Maine Campus. He was also active in student politics, serving as a member of the Student Senate, and supporting the anti-war movement. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.A. in English. He married Tabitha Spruce in 1971. King sprang onto the literary scene with the publication of Carrie (Doubleday, 1974) which was later made into a movie. The success of Carrie allowed him to leave his high school teaching position and write full-time. Other bestselling novels followed including The Shining, The Stand and The Dead Zone. Stephen King is known as a prolific writer of horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide and many of his literature has been adapted to the screen and television.
When I got the news I was in a hearse. I was a tuition kid in a little town and there was no bus service to the high school where we went. So our parents clubbed together and paid a guy who had a converted hearse, which he turned into a kind of school bus, and we went back and forth in that.
We didn’t get the news that Kennedy had been assassinated in school. But when we got into the hearse to go home, the driver, Mike, had the radio on for the first time in living memory. We heard that Kennedy had been killed. Mike, who was kind of silent, spoke up. “They’ll catch the son of a bitch who did that and somebody will kill him.” And that’s exactly what happened.
When and why did you decide to write a novel about the Kennedy assassination?
I tried to write this novel in 1973 when I was teaching high school. At that time it was called Split Track and I wrote fourteen single-spaced pages. Then I stopped. The research was daunting for someone who was working full-time at another job. Also, I understood I wasn’t ready— the scope was too big for me at that time. I put the book aside and thought someday maybe I’d go back to it.
I’m glad that I didn’t go forward with it then. In 1973 the wound was still too fresh. Now it’s going on half a century since Kennedy was assassinated. I think that’s about long enough. I recently saw Robert Redford’s film The Conspirator about the Lincoln assassination. That was a hundred fifty years ago, but it’s still kind of a shock to see the president of the United States assassinated by a lone gunman.
How does having a modern character going back in time affect the way you depict the 1950s, as opposed to simply setting a novel then?
Jake Epping, my main character, makes several different trips into the past—every trip takes him back to two minutes before noon on September 19, 1958, and every trip is a complete reset. Little by little he gets used to it, but the contrast between his twenty-first-century sensibility and the world of that late fifties and early sixties is jarring in a way that Mad Men isn’t. And sometimes it’s pretty funny, as when Jake gets caught singing a risqué Rolling Stones tune and tries to convince his girlfriend that he heard a song containing the lyrics “she tried to take me upstairs for a ride” on the radio!
We’re pretty well anchored in the present, the world that we live in as it is now—a world where there’s four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline, where men and women have a certain equality, where there’s an African American president, where we have computers. When you first go back to 1958, the trip is jarring. Yet the longer Jake stays, the more he feels at home in that particular world. Eventually, he doesn’t want to leave it. He’s gotten fond of his life at a time when you didn’t have to take your shoes off at the airport.
The act of writing is almost an act of hypnosis. You can remember things that are not immediately accessible to the conscious mind. I felt extremely challenged as I began this book. Could I really capture the sense of what it was like to live between 1958 and 1963? But writing, like anything imaginative, is an act of faith. You have to believe that those details will be there when you need them.
The more I wrote about those years, the more I remembered. I used research when I fell short but it was amazing how much came back to me—the sound coins made when you dropped them into the machine when you got on the bus; the smell of movie theaters when everybody was smoking; the dances, the teenage slang, books that were current, and the importance of the library in research. There’s a funny sequence where Jake needs to find somebody and is very frustrated; if he had his computer he could simply run a search engine and get what he needed in two or three minutes. There weren’t Jetways then; you walked out of a terminal and mounted the steps to get on a TWA plane. Now, TWA doesn’t exist anymore, but that’s the airline carrier that brought Lee Harvey Oswald back to Texas
When researching the music of the day, do you listen to those songs as you write?
I’ve always been a pop music fan. I have a good grasp of music between 1955 and now—it’s just one of the places where my head feels at home. It’s also one of the indicators of how American life changes and what’s going on at any particular time.
One of the epigrams for 11/22/63 is “dancing is life,” and dancing is something that has always interested me. It’s symbolic in so many ways of the courting ritual. The changes in dancing mirror the changes in the way we court and love and live over the years. I went to YouTube to watch videos of dances from the fifties and the sixties and that was an interesting thing, to watch people do the Stroll and the Madison, the Lindy Hop, Hell’s a Poppin’—fantastic stuff. I’m crazy about music and I’m crazy about dancing and some of that’s in the book.
I listen to music all the time. Not when I’m composing fresh copy, but when I’m rewriting or editing, I’ve always got it on and it’s always turned up really loud. I also have certain touchstone songs that I go back to—they drive my wife, my kids, my grandchildren crazy. I’m the sort of guy who will play Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” twenty-five times until I discover the song was written by Dolly Parton and then I listen to the Dolly Parton version forty times.
The music that made the biggest impression on me was rock ’n’ roll from the early fifties. I tried to get into the book the excitement that the kids felt to hear someone like Jerry Louis, Chuck Berry, or Little Richard. The first time you heard Little Richard your life changed. The first time I heard Freddie Cannon do “Palisades Park” I thought to myself, “This makes me feel so happy to be alive.”
Majestic Theatre, Dallas, TX November 10, 2011
King talks about the book, Dallas, the 1960s, the Kennedy assassination, as well as his career and politics. This is a 7 minute clip or you can watch the full interview HERE - it's great! I had no idea King was so witty and funny!
11/22/63 - Now a Hulu Original Series
Watch the official trailer for the Hulu original series 11/22/63 (premiered February 15th, 2016).
1. Where were you when JFK was assassinated? 2. 11/22/63 is filled with historical research—it twins real events with events and characters from King’s imagination. Did you learn anything surprising about the actual events leading up to the Kennedy assassination while reading this novel? 3. Our hero Jake Epping goes on an epic journey to try to prevent Kennedy’s assassination. Why choose this watershed moment in American history rather than any other moment? Would you choose a different moment, and if so, when? 4. Many great books, TV shows and movies have investigated the idea of time travel. Do you have any particular favorite books or films that explore this? 5. When Jake lives in 1960s small town Texas, he meets some of the most important people in his life, including the lanky, lovely librarian Sadie. Why is Jake drawn to her? And why is she drawn to him? How does their relationship change over the course of the novel? 6. What is the role of romance in this book? Some reviewers of 11/22/63 cited King’s optimism about love—after reading 11/22/63, do you agree? 7. Jake (or rather George) has to spend a lot of time in Dallas, which he experiences as a malevolent place. Jodie, on the other hand, is everything idyllic small town America should be. Do you believe that certain places are evil at certain times? 8. 11/22/63 gives readers an opportunity to immerse themselves in the past, in all its casual cigarette smoking glory—the music, food, language, cars, and dancing. What are your favorite things about the 50s and 60s King creates in 11/22/63? And least favorite? 9. Do you believe in the butterfly effect/chaos theory? 10. If you could pick any other period in history that you could go back to, which would it be? 11. Conspiracy theories abound, and numerous books have been written on the subject of the Kennedy assassination. In his afterword, King concludes (as Jake does in the book) that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, a disturbed and grandiose man who altered world history forever all on his own. Do you agree?
1. How would you describe Jake Epping—what kind of man is he? How does his ex-wife see him? How do others see him. How do you see him?
2. Why does Jake agree to go back in time—what are his reasons? At this stage in your own life, would you be willing to travel back to the past? What conditions would you require to do so?
2. Why does King inject the Derry, Maine, subplot into the main plot? Is the Dunning episode necessary to the story—or does it drag down the novel's pace?
3. Describe the world of 1958 in which 2011 Jake finds himself. What is appealing about the era...and what is unappealing?
4. Once in Texas, what does Jake, now George Amberson, come to learn about Lee Harvey Oswald? What kind of character is Oswald? When Oswald arrives on the scene, why doesn't Jake/George just take him out? Why does he delay?
5. Follow-up to Question 4: What makes Jake/George (and the author) conclude that Oswald acted alone? Do you think he did? Have you done any previous reading/research that suggests Oswald was not a lone gunman? (see LitLovers review of Conspiracy by Anthony Summers.)
6. Jake/George has come to believe that life is not random:
Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, O.K.? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning its fabulous gears.
What does Jake/George mean? Do you believe in a "great machine," an over-arching fate, or God who oversees and intervenes in our lives. Do "things happen for a reason"? What are your thoughts?
7. What is the nature of time as presented in 11/22/63? Consider the following:
• Time doesn't want to be changed: time is "obdurate." Why?
• Harmonies crop up, similarities in names and events. Why?
• The butterfly effect—what is it?
• The Yellow Card Man—is he a sentinel?
• Time is like a string; changing events tangles the strings.
8. Follow-up to Question 7: What does the novel, ultimately, seem to suggest about the hiuman desire to alter the past?
9. Follow-up to Questions 7 & 8: How does the novel present the notion of history? Is history shaped by individuals whose actions, discoveries, and intentions alter the course of events? Or is history created by the interconnectedness of a multitude of events, generated by forces bigger than any single individual?
10. King has a talent for taking supernatural events and locating them in everyday, mundane settings. How does he do that in 11/22/63? Does he pull it off...or does he falter?
11. 14. Why does Sadie sense that there's something odd about Jake/George? What are some of the ways that George's knowledge of the future betray him? Why does he withhold the truth from Sadie for so long? How would you react if someone told you he/she came from the future?
12. How would you classify this book? Historical fiction? Science fiction? Alternate history? Romance? Thriller? Realism? Is it suspenseful—did you find yourself rushing to turn the page? Were you expecting George to succeed—or fail—in his mission?
13. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about Jake/George's decision to return to 2011. Why does he make the choice he does? Do you wish he had chosen differently?
14. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about the dystopian world Jake returns to in 2011. What were the series of events that led up to the conditions he finds?
15. If you've read other Stephen King books, or seen the movies, how does this book compare with his others? Has he jumped his usual genre...or expanded it? Does that fact that King's normal genre is fantasy-horror make him especially equipped as an author to write a book like 11/22/63?
When Alizée Benoit, a young American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940, no one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her arts patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends and fellow WPA painters, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who, while working at Christie’s auction house, uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt?
Entwining the lives of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner workings of New York’s art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism.
As she did in her bestselling novel The Art Forger, B. A. Shapiro tells a gripping story while exploring provocative themes. In Alizée and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask: What happens when luminous talent collides with unstoppable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world?
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★
This was an intriguing book that entwines the lives of historical figures with fictional charters in a cleverly crafted story. Rich in historic detail, it traces specific events in two lives; Danielle, an art assistant at Christie's Gallery NYC in 2015 and Alizee, Danielle's great-aunt that suddenly disappeared while working as a young artist for the Works Progress Administration at the brink of WWII in the late 1930's.
I learned a great deal from this book; mainly about Roosevelt's WPA program and the beginning of abstract impressionist art and artists, which I knew close to nothing about. I was inspired to seek out images of the art and artists and to bake some delightful, delicious Pain d'Amande for my book club friends. It took me a few chapters to really get into the book but once I did, I was eager to continue reading at any free moment. Even though I didn't love this book as much as I hoped to, I still enjoyed it.
My thoughts are often drawn back into the story as I ponder the desperation felt by families trying to bring their loved ones to America before the war broke out. Given our current political climate, it sadly occurs to me that some things never seem to change. I am reminded of the poem written by Martin Niemoller thatMalala Yousafzai states her father kept tucked inside his pocket:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Catholic.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Catherine's Rating: ★★★
Intriguing beginning but it seems like the author didn't know where to go with it and how to end it. There wasn't a great flow between the present and the past. The art and the Works Project Administration historical bits are interesting. The ending was rushed, not plausible, and just left one a bit disappointed.
About the Author
B.A. Shapiro is the award winning, NYT bestselling author
of THE MURALIST and THE ART FORGER, both stories of art, mystery and history with a bit of romance thrown in.
She's also written five suspense novels -- THE SAFE ROOM, BLIND SPOT, SEE NO EVIL, BLAMELESS and SHATTERED ECHOES -- four screenplays and the nonfiction book, THE BIG SQUEEZE.
In her previous career incarnations, she directed research projects for a residential substance abuse facility, worked as a systems analyst/statistician, headed the Boston office of a software development firm, and served as an adjunct professor teaching sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University.
She began her writing career when she quit her high-pressure job after the birth of her second child. Nervous about what to do next, she said to her mother, "If I'm not playing at being superwoman anymore, I don't know who I am." Her mother answered with the question: "If you had one year to live, how would you want to spend it?" The answer: write a novel and spend more time with her children. And that's exactly what she did. Smart mother.
After writing seven novels and raising her children, she now lives in Boston with her husband Dan and her dog Sagan. And yes, she's working on yet another novel but has no plans to raise any more children.
Art, Interviews, Quotes, & More
These cookies were delicious. Alizee spoke of them in her story and I couldn't wait to try them. They are now one of my favorites!
Catherine, one of our members, attended Ogden High School, known as "The Million Dollar School".
"I went to Ogden High School in Ogden, Utah. It was the first high school in the nation to cost over a million dollars. It was built as a Works Project Administration project during the depression -- meant to put people to work and stimulate the economy. Even though the school was 50 years old when I attended it, it was still beautiful -- maple chairs with real leather upholstery in the auditorium, with gold leaf decorations on the walls & ceiling; marble in the hallways; an attractive art deco exterior. We were proud to attend such a classy school. Now another 25+ years has passed and the school is still beautiful and in full use. It is too bad that more schools aren't built with quality materials to last for 80+ years."
1. The Muralist exposes many facts about the situation in the United States before World War II, including the denial of visas to qualified refugees, the majority of the country’s opposition to entering the war, and the open discrimination against Jews. Did you find any of this surprising? In the wake of the Allies’ victory, how has history generally portrayed this prewar period in America? Do you think there are parallels to the United States in the twenty-first century?
2. The issue of refugees running from war and oppression is as current today as it was during World War II. What similarities and differences to do you see between nations’ responses today and those before World War II? What about in attitudes among U.S. citizens?
3. The author places Alizée, a fictional character, among the real-life artists who created the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York in the 1940s. How did living there at that time inform their art? What do you think makes Abstract Expressionism a quintessential American form?
4. Alizée and her friends are employed by the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program funded by the government to give work to artists. Do you think a government program like this could happen in today’s political climate? How are art and artists valued or supported differently in today's society?
5. In what ways might artistic talent and mental illness be linked? Did you see manifestations of a link in Alizée? How did that differ from the portrayals of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko?
6. Alizée wants to believe that art can change the world. Does art have the power to affect history? What are some examples that illustrate the transforming power of art?
7. Alizée does something illegal in the hopes of thwarting a greater wrong. Do you agree with what she does? Are there times when such decisions are justifiable? What was her state of mind when she made the decision?
8. How much do the times in which you live affect your individual life choices? How might Alizée’s life have been different if she had lived in the twenty-first century? Would her artistic dreams have been realized? How does Alizée’s artistic life compare with that of her grandniece Danielle?
9. When Danielle finds out the truth about what happened to her aunt, she seems able to become the artist she was meant to be. Why? Which was more important: finding the answer, or asking the question in the first place?
10. Were you surprised at how Alizée’s life turned out? Relieved? How do you think Alizée felt about it? How did her art define her life, even amid drastic change?
Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
Winner of the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A profound, startling, and beautifully crafted debut novel, The Sympathizer is the story of a man of two minds, someone whose political beliefs clash with his individual loyalties.
It is April 1975, and Saigon is in chaos. At his villa, a general of the South Vietnamese army is drinking whiskey and, with the help of his trusted captain, drawing up a list of those who will be given passage aboard the last flights out of the country. The general and his compatriots start a new life in Los Angeles, unaware that one among their number, the captain, is secretly observing and reporting on the group to a higher-up in the Viet Cong. The Sympathizer is the story of this captain: a man brought up by an absent French father and a poor Vietnamese mother, a man who went to university in America, but returned to Vietnam to fight for the Communist cause. A gripping spy novel, an astute exploration of extreme politics, and a moving love story, The Sympathizer explores a life between two worlds and examines the legacy of the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Carol's Rating: ★★★
Did I enjoy this book? Not really.
Am I glad I read it? Absolutely.
I'll be the first to admit I don't know much about history. I know very little about Vietnam and the fall of Saigon and even less about the Vietnamese people. By the time I reached the 5th chapter I stopped because I could not figure out what was going on. I was lost. I put the book down and hit the internet for some background on the fall of Saigon and interviews with the author. Not everyone will need to do this but it certainly helped me get my mind into the proper context in preparation for the book.
While this book was a fictional story about a double agent, it weaves in a great deal of history, culture and many-layered characters. It makes you think. It truly is deserving of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award, as it is well-written with many beautiful descriptions, double-meanings, broad vocabulary, and metaphors, which I loved and I hated. By the last third of the book all the descriptions and metaphors became tedious and I began impatiently skimming over the words to move things along. Even so, the story was interesting, eye-opening, and at times, touching. You'll ponder the story and events long after finishing the book. I'm glad I read it. In fact, I'm liking it now far more than I did while reading it. I appreciate the skills and talents of the author. He certainly achieved one of his goals -- I now have a much greater awareness and understanding that "Vietnam is a country, not a war".
Catherine's Rating: ★★★★★
This book was fascinating. Why aren't there more books about Vietnam? The few books/films out there are only about the American soldiers fighting in the jungle and not about why the war was fought or how the Vietnamese people felt about it. It was interesting to hear a Vietnamese perspective for once, one that somewhat told "both" sides of the story.
About the Author
Interview with the Author
Viet Thanh Nguyen
(pronounced as: Viet Tang When)
Viet was born in Buon Me Thuot, Vietnam. He came to the United States as a refugee in 1975 with his family and was initially settled in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, one of four such camps for Vietnamese refugees. From there, he moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he lived until 1978.
Seeking better economic opportunities, his parents moved to San Jose, California, and opened one of the first Vietnamese grocery stores in the city. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Jose had not yet been transformed by the Silicon Valley economy, and was in many ways a rough place to live, at least in the downtown area where Viet’s parents worked. He commemorates this time in his short story “The War Years” (TriQuarterly 135/136, 2009).
Viet attended St. Patrick School and Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. After high school, he briefly attended UC Riverside and UCLA before settling on UC Berkeley, where he graduated with degrees in English and ethnic studies. He stayed at Berkeley, earning his Ph.D. in English.
After getting his degree, Viet moved to Los Angeles for a teaching position at the University of Southern California, and has been there ever since.
Scholar and writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner and associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, has endorsed BDS and the cultural and academic boycott of Israel in support of Palestinian rights.
Always remember, never forget. These powerful words compel us to think about both the injustices of the past and the injustices of the present. One of those contemporary injustices that we struggle to remember is the Israeli occupation and the deprivation of Palestinian rights. For any of us concerned with justice, the imperative is clear: we must stand with the disempowered and the forgotten against militarism and the state,” said Nguyen.
Nguyen joins two other Pulitzer Prize winners, Junot Diaz and Alice Walker, in endorsing the call of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
Nguyen is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002) and the novel The Sympathizer, from Grove/Atlantic (2015). The Sympathizer won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, an Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, a California Book Award, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. It was also a finalist for thePEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. The novel made it to over thirty book-of-the-year lists, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.
His latest book is Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which is the critical bookend to a creative project whose fictional bookend is The Sympathizer. Nothing Ever Dies examines how the so-called Vietnam War has been remembered by many countries and people, from the US to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and South Korea. Harvard University Press published it in March 2016. Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a powerful reflection on how we choose to remember and forget.”
Learn about the decision to evacuate Americans and South Vietnamese from the U.S. embassy and about the experience of a South Vietnamese Army lieutenant who stayed behind in this media gallery adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam.
By mid-April 1975, it was clear that the North Vietnamese Army would attack Saigon. While the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Graham Martin, had been hopeful that Saigon would be spared, he ultimately sanctioned the helicopter airlift that helped 1,100 threatened South Vietnamese to their freedom. Lieutenant Dam Pham was not among those evacuated. He was arrested and spent 13 years in a communist re-education camp.
A Moral Obligation
With just 24 hours in which to complete an evacuation of Americans still in the embassy in Saigon, Ambassador Martin decides to airlift as many South Vietnamese as possible to safety from the advancing North Vietnamese Army, in this video adapted from American Experience: Last Days in Vietnam. (2 min 30 sec)
Lieutenant Dam Pham
Dam Pham, a lieutenant in the South Vietnamese Army who remained in Saigon after its fall, reflects on the war’s outcome. (2 min 11 sec)
Last Days in Vietnam - Documentary Feature
Directed and Produced by Rory Kennedy
Academy Award® Nominee - American Experience Films
In April of 1975, the North Vietnamese Army was closing in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance was crumbling. Approximately 5,000 Americans remained with roughly 24 hours to get out. Their South Vietnamese allies, co-workers, and friends faced certain imprisonment and possible death if they remained behind, yet there was no official evacuation plan in place. Still, over the last days in Vietnam, with the clock ticking and the city under fire, 135,000 South Vietnamese managed to escape with help from a number of heroic Americans who took matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many people as possible.(2 min 15 sec)
....the Commissar has to keep interrogating him for (like everything else in the novel) two reasons:
1) The structure of post-war Vietnam demands that anyone tainted with Western thinking be taught to think like the "restored" country. In that light, our protagonist has to find his own way to the Ho Chi Minh truism that "Nothing" is more important than life and liberty. That's the kind of insight the Commandant values, a mindless literalism that's become dogma in the new country.
2) The Commissar recognizes that mindless truism as dogma, though, as an intellectual betrayal of what motivated them to commit to the revolution as young men. In that light "Nothing" -- pointlessness, the recognition that no thing has any real meaning -- has become more important than the life and liberty for which they were supposed to have committed their lives. Only the Commissar can teach that lesson, and only our protagonist can learn it.
That duality (echoing the divided self of our narrator) strikes me as brilliantly undermining the ideals of the revolution while still echoing the whole book. I loved this one, really loved it.
What does the narrator mean when he tells us, "I am a man of two minds"? How does this statement reverberate throughout the book?
Comparisons of this work have been made to Joseph Heller's Catch-22, an absurdist take on World War II. Nguyen includes similar satire in The Sympathizer. One such example is this statement:
It was a smashingly successful cease-fire, for in the last two years only 150,000 soldiers had died. Imagine how many would have died without a truce!
Can you find other examples where the author employs similar satiric wit? What affect does such a stylistic device have on your reading? Does the black humor lessen the horror of the war, or draw more attention to it?
Talk about the conclusion of the book, which many describe as shattering. Was it so for you? How has the narrator been changed by his experiences? What has he come to learn about himself, his culpability, his identity, the war, America and Vietnam?
The narrator says that the war in Vietnam "was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors." What does he mean by that? What do you know (or remember) about the war—and how did you come to know it? How does point of view, who does the telling, alter one's understanding of history?
The plants and places that inspired the children's tales
The New York Times - Anne Raver
“You may well want to buy a copy to keep and several to give friends... the book is a visual delight.”
There aren’t many books more beloved than The Tale of Peter Rabbit and even fewer authors as iconic as Beatrix Potter. More than 150 million copies of her books have sold worldwide and interest in her work and life remains high. And her characters—Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle Duck, and all the rest—exist in a charmed world filled with flowers and gardens. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life is the first book to explore the origins of Beatrix Potter’s love of gardening and plants and show how this passion came to be reflected in her work. The book begins with a gardener’s biography, highlighting the key moments and places throughout her life that helped define her, including her home Hill Top Farm in England's Lake District. Next, the reader follows Beatrix Potter through a year in her garden, with a season-by-season overview of what is blooming that truly brings her gardens alive. The book culminates in a traveler’s guide, with information on how and where to visit Potter’s gardens today.
Novel Gobblers Perspective
This is an enchanting book filled with Beaxtrix Potter's beautiful watercolor paintings and photographs that chronicle her life and the influence of gardens and nature in it. It's divided into three parts;the first, about Beatrix's life, the second about the seasons in her gardens, and third is a travelogue-like take of visiting her home(s) today that also identifies what has changed and what hasn't. Lastly, the last pages of the book are tables listing the plants in her gardens.
This is a book to be cherished. It is a delight and one that I'll not only go back to time and again but one that I will continue to purchase as gifts for my friends.
Miss Potter was nervous about city life and dealing with publishers. Once she found out she would be published, she decided to consider this new life an adventure. Have you ever been nervous about doing something new in your life? How did you respond to the new situation?
Beatrix Potter was 32 when her first book was published. At this age she still had a maid who was always there to chaperone her. How has life changed for women since the Victorian Age? What is dating like for women today and how was dating different for Miss Potter and Mister Warne?
In Potter’s day, a woman being able to support herself was very rare; however, Beatrix Potter had enough money to support herself for the rest of her life. So why were her parents so concerned about her future with Norman?
How did Beatrix Potter begin to recover from her grief over the death of Norman? What are things that you do to pick yourself up after a sad event in life?
Have you ever read the Peter Rabbit series? After viewing this film and learning more about Beatrice Potter’s life, do think about the Peter Rabbit series any differently? Why?
Have you ever dreamt up characters that were so real to you, like Beatrice Potter, that you had to bring them to life through art or creative stories? What inspired the characters you imagined?
"Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it's like to be young and in love with a book."-John Green, The New York Times Book Review
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we're 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I'm not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you'll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.
A New York Times Best Seller!
A 2014 Michael L. Printz Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature
Eleanor & Park is the winner of the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Fiction Book.
A Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of 2013
A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2013
A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2013
An NPR Best Book of 2013
Novel Gobblers Perspective
Simply put, this book is terrific.
The characters are flawed and lovable. The story is brilliant. It is not predictable. It is realistic; sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes troubling, sometimes beautiful. Our book club members all echoed the same sentiments - that this touching story carried us back to our teenage years and reminded us how we thought and felt at that age.
This was a super book that lives up all the good things you've heard about it.
Sometimes she writes about adults (Attachments and Landline).
Sometimes she writes about teenagers (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl andCarry On.).
But she always writes about people who talk a lot. And people who feel like they’re screwing up. And people who fall in love.
When she’s not writing, Rainbow is reading comic books, planning Disney World trips and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.
She lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.
Follow Rainbow on Spotify
"Music is really important to me when I’m writing. I build soundtracks for each book in my head, and I associate each scene with a specific song. The song gives me an emotional anchor for the scene. So even if I’m writing the scene over a week, I can stay in the same frame of mind and emotional place. (You can see all my book and character playlists on Spotify.)" ~Yalsa.ala.org
The Inspiration Behind the Story
"I've always wanted to write a first-love story. There's something so powerful about falling in love for the first time; it's like a drug. I was thinking about how, when you're 16, you have the capacity to fall in love more powerfully than you do at any other time of your life. But you have so little of your own to offer. You can't make any promises - you don't have time or space or freedom. All you can promise someone is what you feel. It's like every 16-year-old in love is Romeo or Juliet . . . I wanted to write a book that viscerally reminded people what it was like to feel that way." ~ chicklit.com
My motivation was to make people actually feel love, to give them a realistic view of it. If they’re young and never been in love, for them to know – yes, this how it feels. And if they’re older and they have, to feel it as a sense memory." ~Publishers Weekly
A major theme of this book is doomed love. Do you think Eleanor and Park's relationship was doomed from the beginning? Why?
Eleanor and Park are each outsiders, but not in the same way. How is Eleanor different? What about Park?
This book shows us two adult relationships that are polar opposites: Eleanor's mother's abusive relationship with Eleanor's stepfather, and the loving marriage of Park's parents. How does each of these relationships affect Eleanor and Park?
Eleanor and Park's romance is definitely not love at first sight. How does Rowell hint at their connection from the start? How do we see their relationship change over the course of the story?
Eleanor's stepfather, Richie, is the source of much of the evil in this book, but there are other factors that contribute to the abuse Eleanor endures throughout the story. What does this book teach us about what it's like to be a victim of abuse?
One thing you're bound to notice right away is that this book's point of view alternates between Eleanor and Park, sometimes multiple times in the same chapter. Why do you think Rowell does this? How does this switch affect your reading experience?