Fall on Your Knees
Announced January 24, 2002
About the Book
By turns dark and hilariously funny, this stunning fiction debut by an award-winning writer and actor takes readers on a mystically charged journey spanning five generations of one family's sin, guilt and redemption—a narrative feast of racial strife, miracles, terrible secrets and a passionate, enduring love.

Following the curves of history during the first half of the twentieth century, Fall on Your Knees takes us from haunted Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, through the battlefields of World War I, to the emerging jazz scene in New York City, and into the lives of four unforgettable sisters. The mythically charged family—James, a father of intelligence and immense ambition; Materia, his Lebanese child-bride; and their daughters. Kathleen is the eldest, a beautiful talent preparing for a career as an opera diva. Frances is an incorrigible liar and hell-bent bad girl. Mercedes, the obsessive Catholic is the protector of the flock. Lily, the adored invalid, takes us on a quest for truth and redemption.

Fall on Your Knees is a story of inescapable family bonds, of terrible secrets, of miracles, racial strife, attempted murder, birth and death, and forbidden love.
Ann-Marie MacDonald
About the Author
Ann-Marie MacDonald is a writer and an actress. The international best-selling novel, Fall On Your Knees, has been translated into seventeen languages and received the Commonwealth Prize, the Canadian Author's Association Award and two Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Awards.

Her first play, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), was premiered in 1988 by The Nightwood Theatre, and since has had over 100 productions in Canada, the U.S. and abroad. Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) was produced by Canadian Stage in Spring 2001 and ran to sold out audiences with MacDonald in the lead role. The play has been honored with the Governor General's Award, The Chalmers Award and the Canadian Author's Association Award. MacDonald's theatrical roots are in collective creations such as This is For Your Anna and collaborations such as Nancy Prew Clue in the Fast Lane. She co-created and performed in Theatre Columbus' The Attic, The Pearls, and 3 Fine Girls (Scirocco Press). Her other works for the theatre include the play The Arab's Mouth (Blizzard Press) and the libretto for the opera Nigredo Hotel. All have been produced numerous times in Canada and several have toured internationally.

MacDonald has performed in theatres across Canada, and continues to act in film, television and theatre. Screen credits include I've Heard the Mermaids Singing, Where the Spirit Lives (Gemini Award) and most recently the role of Frances in Better Than Chocolate. Her latest theatre production is the new musical comedy, Anything that Moves, with script by Ann-Marie MacDonald and Alisa Palmer, lyrics by MacDonald and music by Allen Cole. Anything That Moves won the Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical.

Ann-Marie MacDonald lives in Toronto and is working on a new novel.
Reading Group Discussion Questions

  1. In the Prologue "Silent Pictures," the author sets the scene through a narrator's voice and drops you into the middle of the Piper family's tangled relationships. Who do you believe is the original narrator?
  2. When 13-year-old Materia runs away with James, Mr. Mahmoud makes her marry James, gives them a house and then disowns his daughter. Were you surprised by the apparent contradiction? What kind of message did this send to Materia, her mother and her siblings? What role do you think this abandonment plays in her unraveling?
  3. The author uses foreshadowing skillfully throughout her novel. For example, Materia uses scissors to snip the kidneys for the kidney pie, then uses them to perform a Cesarian on her illegitimately pregnant daughter. What are some examples of foreshadowing you thought were most effective or haunting? What plot twists surprised you?
  4. Cape Breton Island is a landscape of forlorn beauty enveloped in a new-found poverty due to the Depression. How does the setting affect or mirror the people in it? Why do you think the author chose an island to set the scene, and what is the role of the surrounding sea? Do you think the community becomes a melting pot because it's isolated? What role does wealth play in social position and status for the Mahmouds, the Pipers and the Taylors?
  5. During her mother's funeral, Frances begins to convulse with laughter. She expects punishment, yet receives compassion. They think she's crying. She realizes, "The facts of the situation don't necessarily indicate anything about the truth of the situation. In this moment, fact and truth become separated and commence to wander like twins in a fairy tale, waiting to be united by that special someone who possesses the secret of telling them apart" (page 137). Cite some examples of how this statement rang true throughout the book and how some things aren't what they seem when you dig away at the surface.
  6. Mercedes believes that Lily is a candidate for sainthood in part due to her incredible compassion and ability to cure, but also in part due to the voices Mercedes believes she hears and the things she senses. Do you believe that Lily is exceptional? Do you think Ambrose really visits her? How could Lily remember things that happened as early as her infancy? What role do the spirits play throughout the novel?
  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?
Fall on Your Knees
How to Write Your Own Review
We want to know what you think of this book! Read the suggestions for writing a review below, then post your review on the Oprah's Book Club message board. Check back here often to see if your review has been featured!

  1. How did this book touch your life? Can you relate to it on any level? What do you believe is the message the author is trying to convey to the reader?
  2. Describe the character development in Fall on Your Knees. How does Ann-Marie MacDonald use language and imagery to bring the characters to life?
  3. In your opinion, is the book entertaining? Explain why or why not.
  4. What did you learn from this book? Was it educational in any way?
  5. In conclusion, summarize your reading experience with Fall on Your Knees. What grade would you give this novel?
  6. If you enjoyed this book, what other books would you recommend to fellow readers?

Above all else, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down in print! The best reviews are those that you would like to listen to or would give a friend.


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