All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See

 Anthony Doerr  

Club Selection for March 2015

530 pages
Published May 6th 2014 by Scribner
 
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

Photo from Tweeds Mag http://tweedsmag.org/interview-anthony-doerr/
Anthony Doerr

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 StoriesThe 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.

Source: anthonydoerr.com

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

 

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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.

~ JR Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar

 

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THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH ANTHONY DOERR

BY NANCY SMITH | May 28th, 2014

… 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]

 

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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.”

 

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An Unforgettable Highlight for the Author

“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!”

Discussion Questions

Source: Simon and Schuster

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?

Happy Reading!

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Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out & Back Again
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai - Book Cover
Source: Goodreads.com

Inside Out & Back Again

Thanhha Lai

Club Selection for February 2017

Pages: 272 | Audio: 2 hrs 30 min
Published February 22nd 2011 by HarperCollins
 
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family.
 

 

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Carol's Rating:  ★★★

Don't Pass This One By

This is a touching story of Vietnamese family that comes to America for refuge due to the fall of Saigon. Ten year old Ha tells her story in verse, which perfectly conveys the young voice of a child facing mature circumstances and events; her father is missing in action, her mother is doing her best to provide for and protect the family on her own, her country no longer exists, her new home in America is safety yet completely unfamiliar, her family must learn to accept assistance and the generosity of many and overlook cruelties inflicted by others, and Ha must learn to compromise, be grateful, and discover that love and family is the ultimate definition of home.

Ha is an adorable, spunky character that bristles at being told she cannot do something simply because she is a girl. She is smart, yet struggles with feeling stupid due to language and cultural barriers. Her moments in the sunshine are delightful. Best of all, is after having fallen in love with Ha, I discovered she was actually the talented author of this book and these were her experiences.

A wonderful, wonderful story for all ages that you won't want to miss.

Happy Reading!

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The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings

The Invention of Wings

Sue Monk Kidd

Club Selection for January 2017

Pages: 384 / Audio: 13 hrs 46 min

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.

image of quilt by Harriet Powers
Story Quilt by Harriet Powers

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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.

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Who Were The Grimke Sisters?

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.

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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.

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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.

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Southern Abolitionist Angelina Grimké | The Abolitionists

In this video adapted from the American 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.

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"Who Said It?"
Generate some lively discussion with our fun activity filled with quotes from the book.

Download the PDF

 
 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!

Source: Suemonkkidd.com

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?

Happy Reading!

The Muralist

The Muralist

Club Selection for March 2016
 

The Muralist

B.A. Shapiro

Pages: 352/ Audio: 9 hrs and 9 mins

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 that Malala 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

 
 

Book Trailer

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."

 

 

Discussion Questions

1. Did you like how the author placed historical figures into the fictional characters lives?

2. Having read The Muralist, would you like to read other books written by B.A. Shapiro?  Why or why not?

3. What is something new that you learned from reading this book?

4. What is the first thought that comes to mind when you think about this book?

5. Give two words that you would use to describe this book?

6. What did you think of the ending?

7. What was your overall "take away" from this book?

 

Source: BAShapirobooks.com

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?

 

Happy Reading!

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