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Dedham Public Library Groups and Clubs: Senior Center Book Group

Senior Center Book Group

The Senior Center Book Group meets at the Dedham Senior Center- 450 Washington Street in Dedham, MA at 12pm on the third Friday of every month. Copies of each book will be available no less than a month before each meeting and kept at the circulation desk for your convenience. Clicking on the book's title will bring you to our catalog where you may also place a hold on the item for pickup at your local library.

Each section on this page details the book we will be discussing that month, and gives possible discussion questions to guide your reading. Please feel free to reach out to Julie at jharvey@minlib.net with any questions or concerns. 

Enjoy!

November 18

Book Description:

In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota's Gilead River, the Lincoln Indian Training School is a pitiless place where Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to Odie O’Banion, a lively orphan boy whose exploits constantly earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Odie and his brother, Albert, are the only white faces among the hundreds of Native American children at the school.

After committing a terrible crime, Odie and Albert are forced to flee for their lives along with their best friend, Mose, a mute young man of Sioux heritage. Out of pity, they also take with them a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy. Together, they steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi in search for a place to call home.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphan vagabonds journey into the unknown, crossing paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, bighearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole. 

--Provided by Publisher

 

Possible Discussion Questions:


Although Odie and Albert find themselves in a boarding school for Native American children, most
of the Native children don’t actually speak in the story. The Native character whom readers get to
know best is Mose, and he is mute and “speaks” only through sign language. Why do you think the
author chose silence as a way of depicting the children at the school?

Trying to understand the nature of God is one of the many struggles for Odie during his experiences
in the summer of 1932. Is Odie the only one struggling with this issue? What sense do you have
concerning the way the other vagabonds feel about the nature of God? What about the people they
meet on their travels? How does Odie’s relationship with God change over the course of his journey?

When Odie and Albert attempt to buy boots, the clerk is skeptical that Albert and Odie would be
able to afford the $5 price tag. After Odie lies about getting the money from their father, a second
clerk remarks, “If he got a job these days, he’s one of the lucky ones.” This is Odie and Albert’s first
experience of life outside of the Lincoln School. What sense of the current state of the world do you
get from this encounter?

When Odie is working for Jack in his orchard, Jack explains his religious philosophy, saying, “God all
penned up under a roof? I don’t think so.” Where does Jack think God is really to be found? What
is it in Odie’s experience that makes him disagree with Jack’s outlook?


After having escaped Jack, the vagabonds encounter a Native American man named Forrest. He
appears friendly and shares a meal with them, but he’s also aware that there is a $500 reward for their
capture—a huge amount of money at the time. The children are unsure whether to trust him or not.
What would you do in their situation?

Tent revivals—places where Christians would gather to hear religious leaders speak—were common
in the Great Depression, often traveling across the country from town to town. They offered hope
to people in desperate times, as Sister Eve does to Odie, Albert, Emmy, and Mose. However, Albert
is skeptical of Sister Eve’s healings, calling her a con. What do you believe about Sister Eve’s ability
to heal? What is the con that Albert is warning Odie about?

Why does Odie trust Sister Eve so wholeheartedly, but not her partner, Sid? Do you think he’s
right to draw the conclusions he does about Sid from their interactions? How do some of Odie’s
misjudgments lead to disastrous consequences? In your opinion, is what happens to Albert in some
way Odie’s fault?

When the vagabonds encounter the skeleton of a Native American boy, Albert says there’s nothing
they can do, but Mose reacts very differently. Later, he wanders off from the group to learn about
the Dakota Conflict of 1862, which resulted in the execution of thirty-eight Sioux and the deaths
of hundreds more. How does knowledge of this history change how Mose perceives himself? What
impact does hearing this story have on Odie? On you?

Hoovervilles (named for President Herbert Hoover) were shantytowns that sprang up all across
America during the Great Depression for homeless individuals and families. In difficult times like
this, how do people like the Schofields survive? Is there an expectation that the government will
help them, or do they look to other sources for assistance? How do the residents of this particular
Hooverville pull together? How are they driven apart?

The Flats is like no other place the vagabonds have been on their journey. What makes it so unusual?
When John Kelly is stopped by a policeman, why does he feel he has to say he is from a different part
of town? Despite making a new friend, why is Odie so unhappy during the time he spends there?

When Odie is on his own, riding the rails, trying to get to St. Louis, he comes face to face with danger
and violence. Do you think he was foolish for striking out alone? How was this encounter different
from the things he experienced at Lincoln School?

Odie is a born storyteller even at his young age. Throughout the book he tells Albert, Emmy, and Mose
tales about an imp, a princess, and the vagabonds. What purpose do these stories serve in the novel?

Sister Eve says to Odie that the only prayer she knows will absolutely be answered is a prayer for
forgiveness. What do you think she means by this? Who are the people whom Odie needs to forgive,
and for what reasons?

Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy are all searching for peace and a place to call home. What do you
think each character is looking for and what are their different definitions of home? In the end, do
they all find what they are looking for, and if so how?

The author has said that he drew inspiration from the works of Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and
Homer. Do you find elements of works by those authors in This Tender Land? Why or why not? Are
there other authors whose work this story calls to mind?

In the story, Odie speaks of the journey he and the others are on as an odyssey. Do you see echoes of
Homer’s epic poem in the children’s experiences? If so, can you identify Homer’s poetic counterpart
for each section of the story?

--Provided by Publisher

December 16

Book Description: Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?' A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time. Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Possible Discussion Questions: 

Let’s start with Nora at the beginning of the novel. Nothing is going right for her and she feels her life is already full of so many regrets. Why did Nora feel this way? Why do you think she felt she had no other option but suicide?


As Mrs. Elm tells Nora how The Midnight Library works, she asks her, what would you have done differently, if you had the chance to redo your regrets? Have you ever thought about if you made a different choice, what your life would be like now?


If you somehow ended up in a place like The Midnight Library, how do you think you would handle it? Would you want to see all the different outcomes that your life could have taken?


Nora goes to so many different realities from marrying her ex-boyfriend to studying glaciers. Which alternate reality did you find the most interesting?


Every time Nora goes to one of these realities, there’s usually a lot of good but also something bad. Whether it’s her brother dying in the rock star storyline or her mother passing away alone when Nora kept going with swimming. What do you think the author was trying to say there with how each of these concepts had huge consequences?


Let’s now talk about Nora’s relationship with the real-life Mrs. Elm. Why was this such a significant relationship for her?


Throughout the novel, Nora realizes how people blamed her for their own shortcomings. And that the different realities she chose, were based on hoping for a better outcome for her loved ones. Let’s talk the significance of Nora realizing this. How did it help her move forward with her own life?


What did you think about the storyline where Nora marries Ash and has a daughter? Why wasn’t she able to stay in this alternate reality?

 

What were some of the key realizations that made her want to go back to her original life?

 

How will things be different for Nora going forward? What happens next for her?

 

What are some of the takeaways from Nora’s journey?

 

January 20

Book Description: A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family, about a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for--and everything she feared. Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting, supportive mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. But in the thick of motherhood's exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter--Violet rejects her mother, screams uncontrollably, and becomes a disturbing, disruptive presence at her preschool. Or is it all in Blythe's head? Her husband, Fox, says she's imagining things. What he sees is an overwhelmed wife who can't cope with the day-to-day grind. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well. Then their son Sam is born--and with him, Blythe has the natural, blissful connection she'd always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth. Here, we see the making and breaking of a family in crystalline detail, and what it feels like when women are not believed. The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive pageturner that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about our children, and about what happens behind the doors of even the most perfect-looking families.

 

Possible Discussion Questions:

1. In the book, Blythe struggles with feelings of inadequacy as she fails to live up to the perfect ideal of motherhood. How do societal pressures contribute to those feelings? How do you think society views motherhood—what it should look like, how it should feel, even who should be a mother—and what kind of burden does that place on women?

2. Does being a “good mother” always require selflessness and unconditional love? How much of ourselves do we owe our children? 

3. What are your thoughts about Blythe as a mother? Did she fail Violet? Sam? What could or should she have done differently?

4. The theory of inherited trauma—that we carry the scars of past generations—is explored through Blythe’s mother and grandmother, who struggled in similar ways to her. How much do you think we carry forward from the experiences of the generation before us? Is it possible to break the cycle completely?

5. Nature versus nurture is a big theme in The Push. Are we born, or are we made? And, especially, when children turn out to be violent or dangerous, how much blame lies with the way they are raised?

6. Blythe writes that both she and her mother “had only one version of the truth” when it comes to what they can remember about their own upbringings—there isn’t anyone left who can tell them a different side of the story. Do you think we subconsciously reframe what we remember about our past? Did you believe everything Blythe remembered about her childhood?

7. Blythe says of her early relationship with Fox: “I had nothing when I met you, and you effortlessly became my everything.” What did you think about the quality of their relationship from the outset? Is there something dangerous about a love so all-consuming and addictive?

8. Do you think Fox ever lied about not believing Blythe in order to protect Violet? If so, do you think trying to protect his daughter was a good enough reason to doubt his wife?

9. When Blythe and Fox speak for the last time, Fox tells Blythe, “[Violet] wasn’t always easy. But she deserved more from you. And you deserved more from me.” What do you think Fox lacked as a husband?

10. Were you surprised by the nature of Blythe and Gemma’s relationship? Even though it was based on a lie, do you think there was real friendship and understanding there?

11. Do you think Gemma was always being truthful with Blythe about her feelings for Violet?

February 17

Book Description: A novel set in 1953 Tehran, against the backdrop of the Iranian Coup, about a young couple in love who are separated on the eve of their marriage, and who are reunited sixty years later, after having moved on to live independent lives in America, to discover the truth about what happened on that fateful day in the town square.

 

Possible Discussion Questions:

1. The first two chapters show us very different stages in Roya’s life. Discuss the similarities and differences between her life as a married woman in New England and her life as a teenager living in Tehran.

2. On page 3, Roya observes, “For hadn’t she married a man who was reasonable and, my goodness, unbelievably understanding? Hadn’t she, in the end, not married that boy, the one she met so many decades ago in a small stationery shop in Tehran, but lassoed her life instead to this Massachusetts-born pillar of stability?” How are Bahman and Walter different? How are they similar? What do you think Roya was looking for in each of them? How do her expectations for a relationship change throughout the story?

3. On page 56, after discovering Bahman’s mother believes he should marry Shahla, Roya tries to contain her anger: “This was the societal web of niceties and formalities and expected good female behavior that often suffocated her. But she had no choice but to bear it, to try to navigate within it. That much she knew.” Discuss the importance of “saving face” for Iranian women in the 1950s. Do those expectations differ from what was expected of American women? What about women today? Research the cultural expectations of young women in Iran and discuss as a group. How are they similar or different to the expectations you or the women in your life have experienced?

4. Roya and Zari have very different personalities and ways of looking at life, and the two sisters often argue and clash. But there is a bond between them that is unbreakable. Have you experienced that simultaneous closeness and clashing with siblings in your life? What do you think it is about the sibling relationship in general and Roya and Zari’s sisterhood in particular that lends itself to such contradictions?”

5. Throughout the course of her courtship in 1953, Roya experiences passion and longing in new, surprising ways. For example, on page 84, when she watches Jahangir and Bahman dance, she is filled with desire. Compare Roya’s desire as a young woman to Badri’s. Do their social classes influence their actions? What would be the repercussions if Roya acted as Badri did in her youth?

6. Marjan Kamali employs foreshadowing as a plot device in THE STATIONERY SHOP. Discuss how it adds to the story and moves the narrative along. How would the novel read without foreshadowing?

7. In the 1950s, women in Tehran weren’t allowed the freedoms, though still limited, that women in America were. How does Roya’s family challenge those social expectations? How does that inform Roya’s life as grown woman?

8. In chapter 14, the readers learn about the history between Mr. Fakhri and Bahman’s mother. After reading this, why do you think Badri treated Roya so terribly?

9. On page 172, Roya struggles with cultural differences in flirting: “Sometimes there didn’t seem to be any rules. It had been far easier in Iran where tradition and tarof who your grandfather was often dictated how to behave.” How do flirting and dating in both Tehran and America challenge Roya and her expectations for relationships? Discuss the differences in how Roya and Zari approach dating. Why do you think Zari feels more comfortable in America than Roya does? Do you think Roya would have had an easier time dating in America if she had never met Bahman?

10. In chapter 18, Bahman reveals the struggles of living with a mentally ill mother in Tehran. Discuss mental illness and its stigma as a group. How was mental illness viewed throughout time, and how does the treatment of the mentally ill vary across cultures? How is the way that Bahman and his father care for his mother countercultural?

11. At the beginning of chapter 19, Roya and Walter go on a double date with Zari and her boyfriend, Jack. Jack offends Roya with the way he speaks about Iran and its food and culture. Do you think Roya is right in feeling offended? Would you have been offended? Discuss cultural ignorance and bias as a group.

12. The characters in THE STATIONERY SHOP experience several devastating losses, from love to identity to miscarriage. How do they recover, and how do those losses forever change them? Can your group relate to these sorrows? What losses in your lives have forever changed you?

March 17

Book Description:  A novel set in 1918 Dublin offers a three-day look at a maternity ward during the height of the Great Flu pandemic.

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have fallen sick are quarantined into a separate ward to keep the plague at bay. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders, a woman doctor who is a rumored Rebel, and a teenage girl, Bridie, procured by the nuns from their orphanage as an extra set of hands. At first, this Bridie seems unschooled in life, she makes up a bed with only the rubber mat and savors the weak tea and barely edible porridge from the hospital kitchen. But in the intensity of this ward, over three brutal days, Julia and the women come together in unexpected ways.

 

Possible Discussion Questions:

1. How has the current pandemic changed the way you approach The Pull of the Stars? What similarities do you see between the pandemic in the novel and the one we’re living through now? What details are different?


2. Do you think that people will be more or less likely to read this novel now in light of what is going on? Do you think that your own opinion of the novel is influenced by your response to the day-to-day realities of living amidst COVID-19?


3. World War I is reaching its end and Julia’s home country, Ireland, is in the midst of political turmoil regarding Home Rule. How does this total lack of normalcy affect Julia and the other characters? Do you think that the novel does a good job of balancing these various world events?


4. Discuss the intersections where the war, the influenza, and the civil unrest all meet:
a. How do the crises allow Julia to operate differently than she might have in a more normal era?
b. Would the novel have unfolded in the same way if the influenza had been an isolated incident, and Julia and the others did not have to deal with the war or the heightened Irish politics? How might it have changed?


5. Throughout the novel, Julia clashes with various members of the church, particularly Sister Luke. Does The Pull of the Stars have a deliberate anti-religion message? Is it a condemnation of human rights abuses perpetrated by those who claim to be against
them?
a. One particularly memorable offense detailed is when Bridie tells Julia about the priest who thought it improper to leave teenaged daughters with a widowed father and Julia balks at the depravity and hypocrisy of such a statement coming from a priest: “For a priest to make such a comment—somehow both prudish and filthyminded…” (182). Why do you think Donoghue included details like this?


6. Discuss Groyne as a character. How much sympathy are we meant to feel for him? Are we meant to feel as Julia does, that he is an unlikeable chauvinist? Or should we, like Bridie, look deeper to see the tragedies that lie beneath the surface?


7. What do you make of Julia’s relationship with Bridie? How do the two of them even each other out?
a. Consider the things that Julia is able to teach Bridie and the things that she entirely overlooks until Bridie points them out to her. Would their relationship have flourished in other circumstances? Would their relationship have even been possible in other circumstances? 


8. Julia delivers many babies over the course of the novel, and she gets every single possible combination. Delia Garrett’s baby dies, but she lives. Both Ita Noonan and her child die. Both Mary O’Rahilly and her baby live. Honor White dies, but her baby lives. Why is it important to see this full spectrum of life and death? What do you make of the fact that, before Julia is placed in charge of the ward, not a single woman with influenza
had gone into labor?


9. Discuss Bridie as a character. Were you surprised to learn about her abusive upbringing, or did you see the clues before Julia did? Why do you think that author Emma Donoghue chose to reveal so much of Bridie’s character towards the end of the novel instead of spreading it out throughout?
a. What do you think of Bridie’s lie about previously having the grippe? Was it heroic, particularly with regards to the fear most other characters display, or was it stupid? Was it dishonest for Bridie to lie to get into the room? Should she have told the truth and given Julia the chance to have an assistant who could be with her long-term? Did you like Bridie? How surprised were you by her sudden death? What foreshadowing—if any—did you pick up on?


10. Discuss the title. Julia tells us that the word influenza means “the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed” (147).
a. Are mortals like Julia defenseless against the push and pull of fate, of a force as powerful as the influenza? Consider her later statement that “I’d never believed the future was inscribed for each of us the day we were born. If anything was written in the stars, it was we who joined those dots, and our lives were the writing” (244).
b. Do Julia, Bridie, and the others ultimately submit to the pull of the stars, or do they escape their fate? Also discuss the idea of the influenza as a living entity.

April 21

Book Description: A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island. Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village's all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook's mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger. Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook's differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother's position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point. This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story--one of women's friendships and the larger forces that shape them--The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

 

Possible Discussion Questions: 

The story begins with Young-sook as an old woman, gathering algae on the beach. What secrets or clues about the past and the present are revealed in the scenes that take place in 2008?Why do we only understand the beginning of the novel after we have finished it?


When Young-sook and Mi-ja are fifteen, Young-sook’s mother says to them: “You are like sisters, and I expect you to take care of each other today and every day as those tied by blood would do.” (Page 13) How are these words of warning?  The friendship between Young-sook and Mi-ja is just one of many examples of powerful female relationships in the novel. Discuss the ways in which female relationships are depicted and the important role they play on Jeju.


On page 17, Young-sook’s mother recites a traditional haenyeo aphorism: Every woman who enters the sea carries a coffin on her back.But she also says that the sea is like a mother. (Page 22.) Then, on page 71, Grandmother says, “The ocean is better than your natal mother. The sea is forever.” How do these contradictory ideas play out in the novel? What do they say about the dangerous work of the haenyeo?


In many ways, the novel is about blame, guilt, and forgiveness. In the first full chapter, Yu-ri has her encounter with the octopus.  What effect does this incident have on various characters moving forward: Mother, Young-sook, Mi-ja, Do-seang, Gu-ja, Gu-sun, and Jun-bu?  Young-sook is also involved in the tragic death of her mother. To what extent is she responsible for these sad events? Is her sense of guilt justified?


Later, on page 314, Clara recites a proverb attributed Buddha: To understand everything is to forgive. Considering the novel as a whole, do you think this is true? Young-sook’s mother must forgive herself for Yu-ri’s accident, Young-sook must forgive herself for her mother’s death, Gu-sun forgives Gu-ja for Wan-soon’s death.On a societal level, the people of Jeju also needed to find ways to forgive each other.  While not everyone on Jeju has found forgiveness, how and why do you think those communities, neighbors, and families have been able to forgive?  Do you think anythingcan be forgiven eventually?  Should it?  Does Young-sook take too long to forgive given what she witnessed?


Mi-ja carries the burden of being the daughter of a Japanese collaborator. Is there an inevitability to her destiny just as there’s an inevitability to Young-sook’s destiny?  Another way of considering this aspect of the story is, are we responsible for the sins of our fathers (or mothers)? Later in the novel, Young-sook will reflect on all the times Mi-ja showed she was the daughter of a collaborator.  She also blames Yo-chan for being Mi-ja’s son, as well as the grandson of a Japanese collaborator. Was Young-sook being fair, or had her eyes and heart been too clouded?


The haenyeo are respected for having a matrifocial culture—a society focused on women. They work hard, have many responsibilities and freedoms, and earn money for their households, but how much independence and power within their families and their cultures do they really have? Are there other examples from the story that illustrate the independence of women but also their subservience?


What is life like for men married to haenyeo? Compare Young-sook’s father, Mi-ja’s husband, and Young-sook’s husband.


On page 189, there is mention of haenyo from a different village rowing by Young-sook’s collective to share gossip. How fast did information travel around the island and from the mainland? Was the Five-Day Market a good source of gossip or were other places were more ideal? On page 201, Jun-bu mentions his concern about believing information broadcast on the radio, “… but can we trust anything we hear?” Were there specific instances when information broadcast on the radio was misleading or false? What impacts how people hear and interpret the news?


Confucianism has traditionally played a lesser role on Jeju than elsewhere in Korea, while Shamanism is quite strong. What practical applications does Shamanism have for the haenyeo? Do the traditions and rituals help the haenyeo conquer the fear and anxieties they have about the dangerous work they do?  Does it bring comfort during illness, death, and other tragedies?  Does Young-sook ever question her beliefs, and why?


On page 39, Young-sook’s mother recites the aphorism If you plant red beans, then you will harvest red beans. Jun-bu repeats the phrase on page 199. How do these two characters interpret the saying?  How does this saying play out for various characters?


At first it would seem that the visit of the scientists to the island is something of a digression. What important consequences does the visit have for Young-sook and the other haenyeo?


The aphorism “Deep roots remain tangled underground,” is used to describe Young-sook’s and Mi-ja’s friendship, and it becomes especially true when it’s revealed that their children, Joon-lee and Yo-chan, are getting married. How else does this aphorism manifest itself on Jeju, especially in the context of the islanders’ suffering and shared trauma? Do you think it’s true that we cannot remove ourselves from the connections of our pasts?


On page 120, Young-sook’s mother-in-law, Do-Saeng, says “There’s modern, and then there’s tradition.” How does daily life on Jeju change between 1938 and 2008? Discuss architecture, the arrival of the scientists and the studies they conduct, the introduction of wet suits and television, etc.  How does Young-sook reconcile her traditional haenyeoway of life with the encroaching modern world? Do you think it’s possible to modernize without sacrificing important traditional values?


The characters have lived through Japanese colonialism, the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, the Korea War, the 4.3 Incident, and the Vietnam War. How do these larger historic events impact the characters and island life?


Mi-ja’s rubbings are critical to the novel. How do they illustrate the friendship between Mi-ja and Young-sook? How do they help Young-sook in her process of healing?