Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Why does Josephine decide not to stay and fight the theater and the backlash that she is receiving because she is an American? How does she just walk away from it all? How do you think the rest of the world views Americans since the Iraq War began? How do you think Americans view themselves?
2. How is the issue of responsibility, both public and private, central to the book? How do the characters carry out their responsibilities to each other—Josephine to Zora, Zora to Josephine, Howard to Josephine? How do the characters carry out their larger responsibilities to society? To Atlanta? To the United States?
3. The relationship between Josephine and Zora is complex. Many of the same personality traits can be seen in both granddaughter and grandmother. How do you think this both helps and hinders their relationship? Both wanted to run away from their lives at the beginning of the story; how did they change their ways of thinking by the end?
4. Why does Josephine decide to call the reporter back even after Howard warns her not to? How is Howard an enabler for Josephine?
5. There are many symbols in the book that seem to tie together the major themes of the story.What does the mermaid in the pool represent? Josephine’s abandoned house? The garden?
6. What is Victor’s role in the story? How does his story mirror those of others in the book?
7. Abbie found the “secret of life” in Amarillo, Texas.How do you think she helped Josephine find the secret of life? Do you believe that people find their bliss in a certain place on a map?
8. Why does Josephine stand up to Greer Woodruff, when she ran from her problems in Amsterdam? What keeps her in Atlanta besides Zora?
9. Some people have been inspired by this novel and have planted peace gardens.What does a peace garden mean to you and what would you plant in yours?
10. Family plays an important part in this book.What are the various types of families portrayed? How do neighborhoods create family?