Discussion Questions for By the Rivers of Brooklyn
If you're talking about my novel By the Rivers of Brooklyn in your book club, you may want to use some of these questions to get your discussion started. But don't feel limited by them -- often I find discussions go better when the conversation just flows freely rather than following a set list of questions!
You may also want to check out this site for some interesting background information about the history behind the novel.
1. What did you think of the title? Did you think it fit well with the book?
2. Near the end of the novel, Anne Parsons says, “Everyone in my family has this obsession with home.” What does the idea of “home” mean to different members of the Evans family? Why is it so powerful?
3. Are the experiences of the Evans family over three generations similar to those of Newfoundland families you know who moved away to find work? In what ways? How are they different?
4. What do you think about Ethel’s choice to sleep with, and eventually marry, Jim after Bert’s death? Ethel calls it her first real big sin – do you agree? What other options are open to her?
5. Of the three older women whose stories we follow throughout this novel – Rose, Ethel, and Annie – which one did you find most interesting? Why?
6. Author Trudy Morgan-Cole has been quoted on the subject of “theme” in novels saying, “I only know one theme, and that’s grace.” How is the concept of “grace” relevant to this story? To each of the characters’ lives?
7. In what way do the life stories of second-generation women Claire, Diane, and Valerie reflect the changes in women’s roles since their mothers’ generation?
8. After leaving Newfoundland in 1924, Ethel makes two journeys home: one in 1932 and one in 1984. How does each one affect her idea of what “home” means?
9. Several characters in the novel identify their concept of home as being centred in Annie’s kitchen. How does Annie serve as an anchor for other members of the family? Do you think she is happy in this role?
10. Annie initially resists getting involved with Bill because she believes he has always been in love with Rose. Do you think this changes over the years? How and why?
11. Do Ethel and Jim ever have a chance at a happy marriage? At what point, if any, do you think their relationship could have improved? What would it have taken to make that change?
12. Claire emerges into adulthood as a woman who strongly values order and reason, and distrusts emotion. What experiences and influences shaped her this way?
13. As Ethel’s daughter Diane becomes a young woman, Ethel reflects on how Diane reminds her of Rose. In what ways is Diane similar to her Aunt Rose? In what ways is she different?
14. At the beginning of the novel, Anne searches for an old box of family papers and artifacts that will answer all her questions. How does the book’s epilogue tie back into Anne’s quest in the prologue? What do you think it suggests about family stories and family secrets?
15. Did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not?