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Forty Rooms Reader’s Guide

By Olga Grushin

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin


1.) Who is the narrator of this story? Through whose eyes do you see the events unfold? Is it one of the last incarnations of Mrs. Caldwell, if so, which one? Is it her friend, Olga, or the author, Olga Grushin? Who else might be telling this story?
2.) From the anonymous child who becomes Mrs. Caldwell to the Olgas (both author and character), what importance can be found in the assigning of names? Is a name felt more in its presence or absence?
3.) What you do you make of the apparitions that visit the protagonist? Are they figments of her imagination or a part of the collective consciousness?  Are they cruel or benevolent?
4.) Could the protagonist have become a great poet? And is creative success about talent, diligence, or something else?
5.) Are there any choices the protagonist made that may have acted as a tipping point, or did each lead inevitably to the next?
6.) If you were to write your own life story in forty rooms, where would you begin? Are there key moments you would pick out for yourself? And where did they unfold?
7.) In their last conversation Apollo tells Mrs. Caldwell, “You must earn your right to say the things that truly matter – and for that, you pay in years, you pay in sweat, you pay in tears, you pay in blood. Both yours and other people’s.” Did the universe give Mrs. Caldwell opportunities, and did she squander them by seeking not to suffer? Were her prayers, especially for loved ones, selfless? Would it have been selfish to embrace their misfortune for her inspiration? And if so, is art an act of selfish appropriation or selflessness?
8.) How is accomplishment defined in FORTY ROOMS and do you agree with these parameters?
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