No time for book club meetings? No problem!

Author Archives: clavlaidbackbookclub

Discussion Questions
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.)

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.)

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.
From  |  Dec 06, 2012
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?

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.

1. The novel is split into three parts: Italian Alps, Manhattan and Minnesota.   How would you characterize Ciro and Enza in each of these sections? How do they adapt to their new homes? In what ways did they change over the course of the novel? In what ways did they remain the same?

2. How would the course of both Ciro’s and Enza’s lives have been different if they hadn’t gone to America?  Do you think they would have ended up together if they had stayed on the mountain?

3. Enza and Ciro shared their first kiss beside Stella’s grave. In what ways did digging the grave open up Ciro’s heart?

4. When Ciro opened up his duffle bag on the ship to America, “the fragrance of the convent laundry – lavender and starch – enveloped him, fresh as the mountain air of Vilminore” (p. 120).  What other aspects of convent life stayed with Ciro and Eduardo after they left?  What did they learn from the sisters?

5. Enza “found a best friend in Laura, but so much more” (p. 195). What do you think made Laura and Enza’s bond so deep from the beginning? In what ways did they support one another?

6. Did anything surprise you about the characterization of Enrico Caruso? How would you describe his relationship with those around him? How did the time he spent with Enza and Laura affect them, even decades later?

7. How does The Shoemaker’s Wife portray the immigrant experience? Do any of your own families have a similar immigrant history? Did they have a different experience?

8. Enza and Ciro have different views of religion. In what ways do their beliefs shape their actions and relationship?

9. How do you think Enza’s life would have turned out if she had married Vito? If Ciro had married Felicitá? What did Vito and Felicitá offer them and what did they lack?

10. Carlo Lazzari warned Eduardo to “beware the things of this world that can mean everything or nothing”.  In what ways did this advice ring true throughout the novel?

11. What effect did fighting in the Great War have on Ciro? Do you believe he returned to Manhattan a changed man, or did the war just force him to acknowledge what he had known all along?

12. When Ciro saw Enza on the steps of Our Lady of Pompeii church, moments away from marrying Vito, “it seemed like fate was on his side.” Do you believe that fate brought Ciro and Enza together on that day? Overall, do you believe that Ciro and Enza were destined to be together?

13. Enza once said to Ciro: “I remind you, I imagine, of things you’d rather not think about.” What do you believe Enza meant by this? What challenges did Ciro and Enza face in their relationship? How did they differ in their ways of communicating?

14. How did Ciro, Enza and Antonio each react to Ciro’s diagnosis? What were Ciro’s fears and hopes for his family? In what ways will Enza and Antonio fulfill his dreams?

15. At the end of the novel, Enza agrees to return to Italy with Antonio and Angela. How do you imagine the reunion between Enza and her family? How will Schilpario be different for Enza when seen through Angela and Antonio’s eyes?

Beloved New York Times bestselling author Adriana Trigiani returns with the most epic and ambitious novel of her career—a breathtaking multigenerational love story that spans two continents, two World Wars, and the quest of two star-crossed lovers to find each other again. The Shoemaker’s Wife is replete with the all the page-turning adventure, sumptuous detail, and heart-stopping romance that has made Adriana Trigiani, “one of the reigning queens of women’s fiction” (USA Today). Fans of Trigiani’s sweeping family dramas like Big Stone Gap and Lucia, Lucia will love her latest masterpiece, a book Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, calls “totally new and completely wonderful: a rich, sweeping epic which tells the story of the women and men who built America dream by dream.”

Read an excerpt.
Watch the book trailer.

Behind The Book – A Word from the Author

It started with a three foot stack of vinyl records, the old black discs upon which Enrico Caruso recorded the greatest arias of the opera.  My grandmother Lucia collected all of his records and played them over and over again. Her absolute devotion to The Great Voice lasted her whole life long. I knew, in order to write this novel, I had to fall in love with Caruso too, because he sang the score of my grandparents love affair.

I’m a latecomer to the opera. I knew a few arias, and had a minimal knowledge of the great composers. I was working in Los Angeles in 1994 and went to see The Three Tenors by myself. I was compelled by the recent loss of my grandmother, and thought somehow, that the concert would illuminate something for me or provide some comfort as I grieved. After all it was her music.  I climbed into my seat, sat amongst strangers and leaned in as if to look for something.

The orchestra was sublime. I developed an instant crush on Placido Domingo.  Jose Carreras was razor sharp and focused. Pavarotti was warm and looked like one of my cousins twice removed. As the music washed over me, I began to understand why my grandmother was such a fan.  The words were Italian, and the emotions were big, nothing was left unexpressed in the music. If only life were that way.

The Shoemaker’s Wife has been my artistic obsession.  I have long been fascinated by my grandparents love story because it was a dance with fate.  It’s one of those stories that had so many near misses against the landscape of world events that it’s a wonder they got together at all. My challenge was to present their world to you, beginning in the Italian Alps in 1905 in all its truth and particularity so it might feel it was happening in the moment. The story had to feel fresh, progressive and airy.  I wanted my reader to have the experience I had when stories were told to me by the woman who lived them.

My grandparents were born in interesting times, on the cusp of the 20th Century as machines began to turn out shoes that were once made only by hand, as Enrico Caruso recorded the great voice on vinyl, as the first World War took hold and swept my grandfather into the belly of it.  The pace of their lives began to race as machines, airplanes and cars made the world modern.  My grandfather threw himself into the changes, naming his shoe business The Progressive Shoe Shop.  He was in lock step with times, or at least, he hoped to be.

My grandparents sense of wonder never left them, so I tried not to let it leave the page.  A cross country train ride, a standing room only ticket to hear Caruso, the first snap of the bobbin on a electric Singer sewing machine was new to them, and I wanted you to feel the delight that they experienced every time America presented them with something they had never seen before. Their lives, at the turn of the twentieth century were the very essence of modern.  Everything was new, cars, phones, planes, electricity, even sportswear, and within the various innovations and creations was a kind of explosive potential. No one could predict where all the inventions would lead, they only knew that change was unavoidable.

I would return to this story in between the work on my other novels and noodle with it.  There are many scraps of paper, including dinner napkins and the backs of old bills with a long line drawn across as I fiddled with the timeline. There are old notebooks filled with my grandmother’s musings that I wrote down as far back as 1985.  I had bits of things, a random collection of train tickets, copies of ships manifests, and a silk tag with my grandmother’s name which she sewed into the backs of garments she had created.  All these little things began to add up to something. I thought of Lucia’s stitch work, uniform, clean and perfect, and the thought of her artistry inspired me to stay with this story.

As it often goes with my novels, I walk around telling the story over and over again, to anyone who will listen until I can no longer resist the impulse to write it down.  I traveled as far as the Italian Alps and as close the few blocks it takes me to walk to Little Italy in New York City to bring you the historical aspects of the story.  It was a delicious gestation period. I worked on this story for over twenty years as I wrote scripts and  novels and had my own family.

My travels got me to thinking about what it meant to be an immigrant, then and now.  What a gift immigrants are to this country. They bring their talents and loyalty, and make our country even greater. My grandparents were proud to be new Americans.  Assimilation was not about copying an American ideal, but aspiring to their own version of it.  The highest compliment you could pay a fellow immigrant was he (or she) was a hard worker. I hear the phrase, work like an immigrant, said, but really, it’s bigger than that- we must also dream like immigrants.

My grandparents believed anything was possible if only they worked hard and had a teaspoon of luck. That old chutzpah still resonates, that magnificent moxie still remains, that drive to give their families the best of themselves, no matter the sacrifice, is still alive in us. This century is a return to the struggle.  I found great solace in my grandparents’ courage. They were not alone. There were millions just like them.

When I was presented with the ship’s manifests of my grandparents separate journeys from Italy to America, imagine my elation as a writer when the box was checked that they could read and write. That was no small miracle at the turn of the last century.  They placed the value of education, of reading and writing up at the top of their list, above survival. I wonder if they ever thought the written word might carry the spirit of their history forward.  I hope I see them again someday so I might know.

It is my highest dream and most humble honor to present the fictionalized story of  the life of my grandfather, a shoemaker, and his true love, my grandmother, a seamstress, who was most proud to be The Shoemaker’s Wife.

Discussion Questions

When we first meet Camille, she is writing a news story about a case of child abuse. Why do you think the author chooses to open the book this way? What do you learn about Camille from her reaction to the story?

“Natalie was buried in the family plot, next to a gravestone that bore her parents’ names. I know the wisdom, that no parents should see their child die…But it’s the only way to truly keep your child. Kids grow up, they forge more potent allegiances. They find a spouse or a lover. They will not be buried with you. The Keenes, however, will remain the purest form of family. Underground.” Macabre but true?

“Outside on the porch I saw a changeling.” How do you feel about Amma? Is she a changeling in the traditional sense of the word? Or a chameleon forced to adapt to her unnatural environment?

“When you die, you become perfect. I’d be like Princess Diana. Everyone loves her now.” Is Amma right? Does this apply in the world of Wind Gap? In our lives is this also true?

Do you think there is any significance to the letter A in Sharp Objects? Think of Camille’s family in particular.

“I’m here. I don’t usually feel I am.” How has Camille’s past shaped her? Do you agree with the shrinks that her “weightlessness” is due to her ignorance of her history?

“ ‘Oh now look what you’ve done. I’m bleeding.’ My mother held up thorn-pricked hands, and trails of deep red began to roll down her wrists.” What does this moment tell you about how Camille views her mother? About how Adora views Camille?

How important do you think the outward appearance of the people in Sharp Objects is to their personalities? Ugliness and beauty are themes throughout the book, but are they the key themes? Or do the characters rise above the visual?

“A ring of perfect skin.” One on Camille’s back, another on her mother’s wrist. What significance does this have? How alike are Camille and her mother? In what crucial ways are they different?

“Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom.” How far do you agree with this? Can you see how Camille has come to think this?

Female violence is a major concern of Sharp Objects. In what ways are Camille, Adora, and Amma each violent? What does the outlet for each woman’s acts of violence tell you about her personality?