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  1. Incest is a recurrent theme throughout the novel. James enlists in the army during WWI in part due to his sexual feelings for his daughter Kathleen, but later acts on these urges with Frances. Did you realize what Mercedes witnessed on the "rocking chair" before or after she did? And, what role do you think that incest plays in how Frances earns money?
  2. Though concerned about the possibility of a mixed marriage, Mercedes promises her heart to Ralph. He breaks his promise, not because of religion, but because he falls in love with another women at college. Were you surprised at how easily Ralph's parents accepted his new Catholic wife, especially in the early part of the 20th century? Do you think Mercedes ever moves past this heartache?
  3. How do you think Frances' pregnancy survived the bullet? Do you believe Frances knew what really happened to her child? How much do you think race had to do with Mercedes' decision?
  4. Discuss what you think drove James at times to protect his family and at times to destroy them. What do you think his motives were for the choices that he made?
  5. MacDonald writes "The thief you fear the most is not the one who steals mere things (p. 334)." She's referring to Teresa who knows that Frances stole Mrs. Mahmoud's jewelry but fears more what Frances is up to next with regard to Ginger and their family. What are other examples of things stolen (both tangible and intangible) in the book?
  6. Religion and skin color play a large role in separating and defining the characters in this novel. James is Protestant and married to the Catholic Materia. Materia's father was Catholic, but claims he took the name Mahmoud in honor of the Muslim woman who protected him from death. Materia is Lebanese and dark while James is Gaelic and pale. Jameel who is Lebanese and married to Materia's sister, Camille, is "...scared of being seen as colored" (p.335). What role do you think all these differences play in the interactions of the characters? How do you think these differences would be seen today as opposed to 100 years ago?
  7. Friendship doesn't come easily for the Pipers. Most of their relationships are strained or taboo. Discuss how Rose and Kathleen's relationship develops and how music ties them together. They also share an unusual and ironic tie—Rose, who is black, has a white, blond mother and Kathleen, who is fair, has a dark-skinned mother of Middle Eastern descent. Why do you think Kathleen is drawn to Rose in the way that she is?
  8. Throughout the book, you're never quite sure who fathered Kathleen's twins. Did you ever think that James might actually be Lily's father? The author doesn't make the lineage absolutely clear until the family tree is delivered to Lily in New York at the very end of the book. Were you surprised by what you learned? Do you think Lily is surprised by all the connections?
  9. On the surface, the Pipers could seem like a "normal family," but when you peel back the layers, a very different picture is revealed. Did you ever meet a person or family with unusual circumstances and connections that you accidentally uncovered? Could you identify with any of the characters? If so, why? If the story continued, what do you think would become of Lily in New York?
  10. At the end of the novel, many of the characters have died, and Lily is living far from "home." Do you see this as a new beginning, or as the sad close of a tale? Do you think the novel has a redemptive ending? What constitutes redemption?
  11. Did the tale unfold as you expected? How does the shifting point of view affect the telling of the story?

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