Book 1 – Olivia, Mourning
- How do we become truly tolerant and respectful of one another? What’s more important – dictates of law, personal relationships, religious beliefs, social theory, or something else?
Olivia in some ways passively accepts the racial biases of her environment – an example of this is when she is considering asking Mourning to come to Michigan with her and one of the “pros” on her list is “He wouldn’t expect to be paid as much as a white man” – a fact that she fully intends to take advantage of. How do our unconscious attitudes shift?
- Activism vs. personal behavior
This is very similar to the first question. It’s the whole “change the world” vs “change yourself” thing. What is more effective – to go out and protest or to strive to live your life according to your own values and set a better example?
- Olivia’s intention to kill the Stubblefields – Would she have really done it? Should she have, given that she lived in an age when there was no local law enforcement? Crimes in those days were almost never solved except by witnesses to them, and punishments were often carried out by groups of local citizens. But would killing them have done her more harm than good?
Book 2 – The Way the World Is
- Do you think giving up her baby was the right thing for Olivia to do, under those difficult circumstances?
- The pros and cons of Olivia and Charlie going to live with Mourning in a black community.
- Changing attitudes through personal relationships (similar to question 1 for Book 1). Can you give examples of people in the book who may have changed the way they treated others, due to the influence of personal relationships?
Book 3 – Whatever Happened to Mourning Free?
- Charlene came of age feeling that she was living a prologue, waiting for her real life to begin. Can we escape who we were born to be?
- Why do you think Charlene felt such a strong connection to Olivia, and through her to Charlie?
- Do you think Charlene was right to have misgivings about a White couple raising a Black teenager? What do you think Cairo would have said to Charlene about her unlikely friendship with her son?
- What do you think of Cairo taking her 9-year-old son on a Freedom Ride?
- There is a long history of racial conflict in America. Is this an inevitable outcome of human nature, a problem that is especially present in the United States, or the result of individual conflicts that are allowed to spread to a community?
Book 4 – The Summer of 1848
- Olivia thought six-year-old Charlie had been sheltered, as much as possible, from the truth about racial divisions. Then she discovered that Mourning had felt, and acted, differently about that. Which approach would you have taken?
- Did you sympathize with Mourning leaving the way he did?
- How did you feel about Olivia becoming involved with another man so soon?
- Did medicine seem like a natural choice for Mourning to choose as a career?
- Were you surprised/upset/angry that Michelle took Jeremy back so easily?
- Other than helping fugitives to freedom, as Olivia did, can you think of other things people like her and Nick could/should have done to help black people gain their rights?
- Personal behavior vs political activity – which do you think is a more effective agent of change?
The Lonely Tree
The Lonely Tree tells Tonia’s story against the backdrop of historical events that took place in the Etzion Bloc of settlements and the new State of Israel. At the back of the book the Author’s Note says: The characters described in this book are fictional and in no way resemble actual personalities. There was no family in Kfar Etzion with adolescent children. However, the historical events described as taking place in Kfar Etzion are, to the best of my ability, accurately portrayed.
- When you read historical fiction, do you feel compelled to fact check? Did this book give you a new perspective on any of these historical events? Did it make you want to learn more?
- How much license are you willing to grant a writer of historical fiction – such as the creation of a family in Kfar Etzion that (due to the age of its children) could not have lived there?
Tonia has lived through difficult times, but her new “easy” life in Michigan presents its own challenges. Why is happiness/peace of mind so elusive? A chance encounter with a therapist offers some advice. Tonia also recalls the words of a high school teacher.
- She and Dr. Meyers have the following exchange:
Tonia clenched the wadded tissue in her fist. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I belong here.’
Dr. Meyers chewed on her top lip, thinking. “Listen to that word, “belong”. It doesn’t sound like much of a choice. That book belongs on that shelf. He belongs in jail. If each of us belonged in some specific place, we’d have no free will about where to live.”
Are geography/genealogy destiny? Do we often make choices thinking we are exercising our free will, when in fact much of what we do is the inevitable result of the circumstances into which we were born?
- Dr. Meyers also says to Tonia: “You know, Tonia, we identify with what we are, but sometimes even more strongly with what we are not. Why don’t you try being a little less aware of what you are not?”
Do you think this is good advice? When do you tend to define yourself by what you are not?
- About Tonia’s teacher:
Tonia pressed her fingers to her lips for a moment before she spoke. ‘You remind me of a teacher we had in high school. He talked sort of like that. According to him, everything is either a fact or a value. He’d say, “Most people don’t waste time and energy treating facts as if they were values – trying to decide if they want the sun to come up in the morning, or how much two plus two should be this week. But they do wear themselves out acting as if values were facts. Like trying to find evidence to prove that there is a God. People believe in God because they have chosen to. Period. There isn’t any proof.”
“Ah yes, taking the famous leap.”
“Yeah, he used that phrase for other things, besides religion. His favorite example was if you ask some guy why he married his wife, he’ll say something like, “Because she’s so pretty and smart and I love her red hair.” But that’s never the last word, not like two and two are four, because you can ask him, “But what about that beautiful woman over there? Why not her?” You can always find somebody smarter and someone with better hair. And in the end all he can say is, “Just because I did.”
That teacher also said: “Embrace the choices you make. That’s the secret to happiness.”
And Dr. Meyers says: “There are all kinds of ways to get to where you belong. Forward. Back. Sideways. Trick is knowing where you want to go. Once you’ve figured that out, getting there is usually the easy part.”
Are all of these just other ways of putting what exasperated mothers often say: “I don’t care what you decide – just make up your mind already! And stick to it!”
Is that good advice?
- Do you know many Share-A-Leg couples?