Monday, April 25, 2005

The Great Fire Questions for Discussion and Synopsis

I found PICADOR, the site Carol had recommended for guiding reading group discussion some month's back. Since I can't post links in the title block, I copied and pasted those items below for your information. You can also click on the word Picador in this post to be taken to that site. Don't feel boxed in by either the synposis or Picador's questions. They are only places to get started with a discussion. I have about 2 hours more to read of the book, which is my second time reading it in 2 years.

The Great Fire: Ten Questions for Discussion

  1. If The Great Fire is a historical novel—“historical” in setting as well as in its preoccupation with weight of political and personal history—how does the novel feel particularly contemporary? What themes present in the book exist today, in our world?
  2. The novel is, as well, a veiled critique on Imperialism, on the Western world’s presence in
    foreign lands. In what way does each character reflect a different reaction to the East? What sorts of roles do they (Aldred, Peter, Oliver, the Driscolls, Calder, Talbot) play in its changing politics?
  3. In what ways is love expressed in the novel? Do these characters put themselves at risk for such expression, and furthermore, what must they stand up against to love others?
  4. The idea of destiny–fate–comes up again and again in this world. The word “destiny” itself is mentioned more than four times throughout the novel. If both love and war are then meant to be, if these people’s damages lead them to new places, what do these characters’ individual lives say about humanity as a whole? Does the novel leave you with hope or worry?
  5. More specifically, what is the fate of women in The Great Fire? Think of the discussion on Western weddings in Hong Kong, on page 159. Of Aldred and Peter’s impressions and experiences with women. Of Helen’s plight.
  6. Discuss the paragraph on page 111, beginning with “These were their days…”
  7. What role do the mailed letters play in the book? Are they “the sad silly evidence of things,” as Aldred says to Helen, or are they more? How does Hazzard use the epistolary form to fuel the narrative?
  8. Why, towards the novel’s close, does Aldred remember the stacking of his home’s firewood (page 223) with such immaculate detail?
  9. Infirmity is everywhere throughout The Great Fire—from Benedict Driscoll’s degeneration to Aldred’s wounds to Peter’s fate to Dick Laister’s father’s amputation. What deeper, quieter infirmities exist in the book? What are your impressions about the characters’ reaction to their wounds?
  10. What do you believe Benedict said when he yelled at the Japanese servant who would subsequently kill himself?

Synopsis of the Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

The year is 1947. The great fire of the Second World War has convulsed Europe and Asia. In its wake, Aldred Leith, an acclaimed hero of the conflict, has spent two years in China at work on an account of world-transforming change there. Son of a famed and sexually ruthless novelist, Leith begins to resist his own self-sufficiency, nurtured by war. Peter Exley, another veteran and an art historian by training, is prosecuting war crimes committed by the Japanese. Both men have narrowly escaped death in battle, and Leith saved Exley’s life. The men have maintained a long-distance friendship in a postwar loneliness that haunts them both, and which has swallowed Exley whole. Now in their thirties, with their youth behind them and their world in ruins, both must invent the future and retrieve a private humanity.

Arriving in Occupied Japan to record the effects of the bomb at Hiroshima, Leith meets Benedict and Helen Driscoll, the Australian son and daughter of a tyrannical medical administrator. Benedict, at twenty, is doomed by a rare degenerative disease. Helen, still younger, is inseparable from her brother. Precocious, brilliant, sensitive, and at home in the books they read together, these two have been, in Leith’s words, delivered by literature. The young people capture Leith’s sympathy; indeed, he finds himself struggling with his attraction to this girl whose feelings are as intense as his own and from whom he will soon be fatefully parted.

The Great Fire

Has everyone who is going to discuss this book finished reading it? Just wondering if we can go ahead and start trading comments on it since you've already met to discuss Murmer Lee. My copy of The Great Fire is overdue at the library, so I'm returning it today. But I did finish it and am wondering what everyone else thought.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

My Problem With Murmur Lee

Miami Beach - March 2003 Posted by Hello

In general I enjoyed this book much more than Light On Snow. The presentation of the story is very original. The story is set in a native-Florida cultural milieu, and it portrays an angle on American Catholicism that most of us could identify with as catholics, regardless of place. A creative twist on the mystery of life after death is also very enjoyable. The book is reminiscent of the style of fiction writing currently very popular among certain Latin American novelists such as Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, (whoever wrote Like Water for Chocolate) et. al. The characters were very much alive, albeit somewhat two-dimensional. Transgendered Edith Piaf was hilarious, ce n'est pas? On the downside, one will be hard-pressed to find a likable male character in the novel. The doctor comes closest, though the reader is often laughing at him, not with him. And I do have to wonder, could Murmur have really been that good?

Monday, April 11, 2005

Book Club Meets to Discuss Murmur Lee

Hello readers,

The Tecolote book club met to discuss THE PROBLEM WITH MURMUR LEE. Della, Lisa, and Leroy attended. Jenna forgot to attend after calling everyone to arrange the meeting. According to Della, the gathering was fun and everyone learned more about seizures.

Next, we will turn our attention to THE GREAT FIRE by Shirley Hazzard which we will discuss in May on this blog site. We've decided to use the COUSINS BOOK CLUB BLOG to share thoughts about other books that we're reading and offer recommendations to one another.