by Julie HaleFebruary, 2010
New paperbacks for reading groups
By Lisa See
Set in the 1930s, See’s richly detailed historical novel tells the story of Pearl and May Chin—two wealthy, beautiful, liberal-minded sisters who are coming of age in the magical city of Shanghai. Life is grand for the girls until their father confesses that his fondness for gambling has done the family in, both financially and socially. In an effort to repay his debts, the girls’ father sells them to two men in America who are looking for Asian brides. Pearl and May are determined to stay in their homeland, but when the Japanese attack and their parents vanish, they decide to leave China for Los Angeles, where their future husbands await them. The immigration process proves easier said than done for the two young women, who arrive at Angel’s Island (known as the Ellis Island of the West Coast) only to be delayed by the authorities and questioned for several months. Once May and Pearl meet their husbands and become accustomed to American life, they find that their family heritage serves as a powerful source of inspiration and solace. Spanning 20 years in the sisters’ lives, this unforgettable narrative convincingly traces their dramatic development from privileged girls into hard-working women and wives. See has written a compelling and finely detailed novel that takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the past.
A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.
Cutting for Stone
By Abraham Verghese
Author of the much-praised medical memoir My Own Country, Verghese, who is a doctor as well as an author, now offers an expertly composed first novel about missionaries in India and Africa. In 1947, Sister Mary Joseph Praise leaves her missionary post in India to take a new position in Yemen. Traveling by ship to her new home, she saves the life of a fellow passenger—an English physician named Thomas Stone. Their meeting proves a fateful one, as Sister Praise comes to realize when she and Thomas are reunited at a hospital in Addis Ababa. Years later, she dies giving birth to twins—sons named Shiva and Marion, who are raised in Addis Ababa in an atmosphere of political upheaval. Their adopted parents are doctors at the local hospital, and the boys are raised within the confines of the medical complex. Marion serves as narrator for this poignant novel, recounting the story of how his foster parents met. As the two brothers become doctors themselves, they find that their destinies are bound up in each other and in the place they call home. Covering a 50-year span, Verghese’s accomplished novel has plenty of narrative momentum, moving smoothly between exotic locales and exploring ambitious themes of race, identity and family. An insightful and assured writer, Verghese writes from the heart about medicine and politics—timely topics that are clearly dear to him.
A reading group guide is available online.
By John Wray
Wray’s wonderfully original third novel focuses on New Yorker Will Heller, a 16-year-old schizophrenic who stops taking his medicine and sneaks away from the mental hospital where he’s a patient. Convinced that the end of the world is just a few hours away and that he’s destined to save mankind, Will is drawn into the subway tunnels of Manhattan. He rides the trains in search of a way to solve humanity’s problems—and in search of his friend Emily. Meanwhile, a determined detective named Ali Lateef pursues Will at the urging of Violet Heller, the boy’s mother. A beautiful, strong-willed and perpetually agitated Austrian woman, Violet has a secret of her own, and the task of finding her son proves to be surprisingly dangerous for everyone involved. The novel takes place in a single day, and it’s an action-packed ride heightened by Will’s smart observations and lyrical insights into modern culture. The book is filled with mesmerizing scenes set beneath the streets of New York, as Will travels underground on his strange quest to save the world—and himself. Wray’s sensitive portrayal of the teen brings to mind the work of J.D. Salinger and Jonathan Lethem. A fast-paced novel of pursuit, this dramatic, authentic narrative will solidify Wray’s reputation as one of America’s finest modern novelists.
A reading group guide is available as a PDF -- click here to download.