July 25, 2013
1. How are names used as metaphors in the novel?
2. What is the meaning behind how names are given (i.e., attribute names for the children and the family name shared by the Bradleys of Oklahoma), and do you think they serve a purpose?
3. How does the writer explore the bond between Sorrow and Amity? In what ways is their relationship typical of the bond between sisters?
4. The children in the polygamous community were illiterate. What are the implications and impact of that type of ignorance? Is a faith that is designed to keep its believers ignorant and isolated a “true” faith?
5. How can blind faith be dangerous? Was Sorrow brainwashed or devout?
6. Who defines what makes a family, and is there a true definition of family anymore? Do you think these polygamous women are a “true” family?
7. Are there scenarios that can justify a polygamous lifestyle? What are the benefits of a polygamous community to the wives in Amity & Sorrow? Do you think Amity will be drawn to live a polygamous lifestyle?
8. What role did meth play in the story? What did that add to the plot or reveal about the community?
9. Is it a fair exchange to join a faith and a family to “get clean”? Who gets more out of the exchange—the individual women or the family in total? Does a faith that offers a safe place of healing appeal to you, or is it a kind of con?
10. One of the hardest decisions a mother can make is to turn against her child. How does Amaranth struggle with this decision? Do you think she makes the right choice?
Caution: Spoiler Alert
11. To what extent was Sorrow a victim? Or did she become a willing participant when she returned “home”? At what age should children be responsible for their actions?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
July 25, 2013
A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go—her husband.
The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, Amity & Sorrow is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own. (From the publisher.)
July 1, 2013
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie Reading Guide – Ayana Mathis
Dive into Oprah’s latest pick for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 with 16 questions about Ayana Mathis’s stunning first novel, The Tribes of Hattie.
The Great Migration forms the backdrop for The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and was an ongoing inspiration to the author in writing it. What do you know about this historical phenomenon, and what role can you discern it plays in the book? Are there family members of yours who experienced/were affected by it?
In the book’s first chapter, Hattie suffers a terrible double tragedy: her infant twins fall ill and die. How do you think this event changes the course of Hattie’s life/the course of the novel?
Hattie thinks her mother would have thought the names she chose for her twins—Philadelphia and Jubilee—were “vulgar,” “low and showy.” But Hattie chose them to “give her babies names that weren’t already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia.” Instead, she wanted to give them names “of promise and hope, reaching forward names.” What do you think the author means to convey here?
In the second chapter (“Floyd”), the narrative moves up twenty-three years, to 1948, and focus shifts to Hattie’s oldest surviving son. Discuss how the novel’s structure, i.e., ten chapters, each focused on a different character and time period, affects the reading experience.
What do you think the author intends on page 17 when she refers to the “rotting-jasmine smell of the South” Floyd detects as he drives, en route to a musical gig?
Do you think Floyd will come out as a gay man after the scene with Lafayette on page 33, or do you think his temperament and experience, and the times, will prevent this? Or will he hang himself “like Judas”?
What do you think the author intended by making Six’s true relationship to God/preaching so ambiguous? Is he a religious person, or does he just like the power his preaching has over others?
In the chapter called “Ruthie,” we see Hattie being drawn away from her family (and from her husband, August) to another man. When, in Baltimore, she decides to leave Lawrence and return home, what do you think is in her mind?
When Hattie reluctantly, bitterly, hands over custody of Ella to her sister, Pearl, what ending do you imagine the event will have in terms of Ella’s life and in terms of Pearl’s relationship with her sister?
In the Alice and Billups chapter, Alice realizes she has lost her relationship with her brother Billups to her maid, Eudine. What do you think the author is saying about Alice by having her condescend terribly to the maid who has become her brother’s fiancée?
In the “Franklin” chapter, the author varies tones and locales, shifting to 1969, to Vietnam, where Franklin is a soldier. This character feels more distant not only geographically but also in terms of how much of a window the reader gets into his thinking. Why do you think the author chose this approach for Franklin’s chapter?
The chapter titled “Bell,” set in 1975, finds Hattie’s daughter Bell in a state of despair over a breakup, and over a betrayal she’s committed. She’s very ill—and unwilling to try and get better. She and her mother haven’t spoken in years because of that betrayal, which involves Lawrence, Hattie’s lost love. Still, it is only Hattie who is finally able to nurse Bell back to health, revealing that while Hattie may not show her maternal nature very often, it’s still there. Discuss the deep bond between Bell and Hattie, and the return of Lawrence.
What do you think Bell’s motivation is for entering into a relationship with Lawrence? And do you think Lawrence is aware of Bell’s relationship to Hattie on any level? What does this say about Lawrence?
The chapter about Cassie is so painful to read because it gets inside the mind of someone who has lost herself—who is devastatingly mentally ill. When you read this chapter, do you think of Cassie’s illness as something that sprang organically from who she is (nature), or do you see it as the result of Hattie’s grief and lack of tenderness (nurture)?
The last chapter, “Sala,” shifts the focus away from Hattie’s children to her granddaughter. What do you think this chapter’s message is? Is it ultimately hopeful?
July 1, 2013
The newest Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection
The arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.
A debut of extraordinary distinction: Ayana Mathis tells the story of the children of the Great Migration through the trials of one unforgettable family.
In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd flees Georgia and settles in Philadelphia, hoping for a chance at a better life. Instead, she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins succumb to an illness a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children whom she raises with grit and mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not love them, a world that will not be kind. Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage and the journey of a nation.
Beautiful and devastating, Ayana Mathis’s The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is wondrous from first to last—glorious, harrowing, unexpectedly uplifting, and blazing with life. An emotionally transfixing page-turner, a searing portrait of striving in the face of insurmountable adversity, an indelible encounter with the resilience of the human spirit and the driving force of the American dream.
Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.
Read Oprah’s interview with Mathis HERE.