Saturday, March 29, 2008

Final Set of Discussion Questions

I haven't had much time to read this past week. Most nights I've fallen asleep after a paragraph or two, but I finally finished the book last night. Here a few thoughts on the last sections of the book. Because I stopped reading at page 261 before, I'm starting here with the last two questions of set two.

29. Ostensibly, Hanna is the one we are reading about here: "I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it" (p. pp. 264-265). Since this sentence provides us with a good explanation for the book's title, how well do you think Geraldine Brooks has done in giving us a sense of these people?

I think Brooks has done a good job in giving us a sense of both the Jewish people - whose book it is - and others who made it and protected it. Since I was a young girl, I've been fascinated with Jewish culture, and I greatly enjoyed this novel. I also appreciate the witness born by the book, as Raz explains it to Hanna:
"Well, from what you've told me, the book has survived the same human disaster over and over again. Think about it. You've got a society where people tolerate difference, like Spain in the Convivencia, and everything's humming along: creative, prosperous. Then somehow this fear, this hate, this need to demonize 'the other' - it just sort of rears up and smashes the whole society. Inquisition, Nazis, extremist Serb nationalists ... same old, same old. It seems to me the book, at this point, bears witness to all that" (p. 195).
30. Were you expecting the death of Alia (p. 270)? Or had you hoped for a happy ending, in spite of Ozren's words to Hanna, "Not every story has a happy ending" (p. 37)?

To be honest, I hadn't thought too much about Alia since Hanna left Sarajevo. But his death felt like it fit with what else was happening - and it was absolutely necessary to give motive for Ozren's later actions.

33. "Too finely dressed to be a servant, and fully participating in the Jewish rite, the identity of that African woman in saffron has perplexed the book's scholars for a century" (p. 20). When I read that, I made a note: "Okay, I'm hooked; I want to know who this woman is." Now we know (p. 315). Who is she, and why is she in the picture?

I love that Zahra put herself into this picture. To me it's part of the witness of the Sarajevo Haggadah - as well as the message of People of the Book: the importance and value in accepting and celebrating our common humanity.

35. What a way to reconnect with Lola, having her discover something hidden in the museum in Israel. Was this discovery a miracle? Or was it beyond believable to you?

Almost unbelievable, I think, but I'm pretty much able to accept these kinds of coincidences in the novels I read - and it did bring us full circle to Lola's girlhood with Serif Kamal and his efforts to save the book.

36. "What skills could you possibly have, darling?" (pp. 343). Could you imagine Hanna's mother saying such a thing, even though she's trying to keep Hanna off the board of the Sharansky Foundation? Hanna responded in exasperation, "How is it ... that a man like Aaron Sharansky could have loved someone like you?" (p. 344). Is their mother-daughter relationship believable? What did you think about Hanna's decision to "change my name to Sharansky" (p. 345). Do you think they can ever heal the rift?

The turmoil in the relationship between Hanna and her mother is believable to me, and it has such deep roots that I don't know if they'll ever be able to heal the rift. It's a sad situation, because they could be each other's greatest supporters.

37. How would you feel if you'd changed your whole professional life six years ago, and now discovered you had been right all along?

Vindicated, I guess, but extremely frustrated. All the self-doubt that Hanna had for those six years! But she was able to do some other great things that she probably wouldn't have done - so it wasn't really wasted time.

1 comment:

Dewey said...

Hi, sorry I took so long to get around to showing up here!

I found that I liked the stories of the people who had been connected with the book far more than Hanna's story. So I definitely think Brooks did a great job with those characters.

I was also hooked by that early description of Zahra and thrilled that she wasn't just an afterthought, but an important character. I think she was my favorite character of all, really.

And I found Hanna's horrible relationship with her mother the most compelling part of her story. Some mothers, my own included (although she wasn't as ambitious as Hanna's mother), simply have no maternal feelings or inclinations, or maternal talent or skill at all, and it sounds like Hanna's mother might be one of those women.