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Swamplandia!

by

Swamplandia! Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

1. Now that you’ve read the novel, go back and reread the epigraph. Why do you think Russell chose this quote?

2. Some of these characters first appeared in the story “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” in Russell’s collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Have you read that story? How does it compare to the novel?

3. “‘Tradition is as important, kids,’ Chief Bigtree liked to say, ‘as promotional materials are expensive.’” (page 5) Did the Chief show this in his actions? Which of the Bigtree tribe members paid the most respect to tradition?

4. How did Chief’s myth-making affect his children? How might things have been different if he’d been more truthful?

5. On page 28, Chief introduces his theory of Carnival Darwinism, which he thought would save Swamplandia! How might it have been successful? Why wasn’t it?

6. Where else does the notion of evolution come into play?

7. Belief—in Carnival Darwinism, in ghosts—plays a large role in the novel. What prompts Ossie’s beliefs? Ava’s? Where is the turning point in their belief systems?

8. Why do you think Ossie sees Louis and other ghosts, but never Hilola?

9. What does Ava’s red alligator represent? And the melaleuca trees?

10. Why do you think Russell interrupted the novel for the story of the Dredgeman’s Revelation? What exactly is the “revelation”?

11. There are biblical references throughout the book, especially in the World of Darkness sections. Why does Russell include them?

12. How do Kiwi’s actions affect his family? What do we learn via his sojourn on the mainland?

13. On page 146, the Bird Man tells Ava, “Nobody can get to hell without assistance, kid.” How does this compare to the quote from Dante that opens the chapter? What does it tell us about his character?

14. The three Bigtree children are innocent for their ages. Which one matures the most over the course of the novel?

15. The Bird Man calls the ending of the Dredgeman’s Revelation “a vanishing point.” (page 176) What does he mean by that?

16. Both the Bird Man and Vijay act as guides to a Bigtree sibling. How does each approach his role?

17. When Ava said “I love you” to the Bird Man on page 196, what did you expect to happen as a result?

18. On page 198, Ava recites a credo: “I believe the Bird Man knows a passage to the underworld. I believe that I am brave enough to do this. I have faith that we are going to rescue Ossie.” Was she right about any of this?

19. Did the Bird Man believe in the underworld, or did he have an ulterior motive all along?

20. How does Kiwi’s use of language change during the novel? What does it reflect?

21. Like the Dredgeman, several of the Bigtrees have revelations. Whose is the most surprising?

22. What is the significance of the Mama Weeds passage? What do we learn from it?

23. Why doesn’t Ava ever tell anyone what the Bird Man did?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 13 comments:

smellikelli, January 31, 2013 (view all comments by smellikelli)
Amazingly beautiful imagery! Strong yet weak characters. A true adventure. At time poignant and sweet and then brutal and uncomfortably creepy.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
eely, January 25, 2013 (view all comments by eely)
a bigger, hotter, steamier mess than the central character of this tome, the everglades. the language is mercilessly overwrought and overworked, it leaves your head spinning in unpleasant and unhelpful ways. its matriarchal focus is sexual politics at its worst and most insulting; i.e. mom dies, the family falls apart, dad is helpless, uncommunicative and absent; grandad is a victim of senility; son is a delusional mess stumbling whichever way random chance and misguided males steer him, and in the end mom's ghost saves the day. Any alleged hilarity in this, alluded to by other readers, only comes at the expense of hapless, lost souls and the pathetic excuse for a culture that florida has grown in the fetid expanses of empty wetness that await us all in our globally warmed future.
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(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
Helen C. Bergerson, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by Helen C. Bergerson)
This book had wonderful characters, of which, the diversely painted Florida swamplands was a major one, along with ghosts and tales of the past. The story narrated by the youngest daughter is unexpected, magical at times, and never stops in inspiring wonder and emotion in the reader. It also reflects the changes in a unique family as well as the swamp. Everything becomes a prop for the coming of age stories of the children...and the changes brought about by trying to tame the everglades. The gators are not as terrifying as some of the characters and the return to civilization forced (and welcomed) by the narator and her siblings.. A unique style and beautiful writing. I want to know what happens to these young people as they grow up and pray they never lose their individuality.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307263995
Author:
Russell, Karen
Publisher:
Knopf Publishing Group
Author:
Karen Russell
Author:
Catmull, Katherine
Subject:
General
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Animals - Birds
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B-Hardcover
Publication Date:
20110231
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 5
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in 1 lb
Age Level:
from 10

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Related Subjects


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Swamplandia! Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Knopf - English 9780307263995 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Russell's debut novel is in a literary class of its own. Swamplandia! is a mystical, fascinating coming-of-age story told from the perspective of the charming 13-year-old Ava. A shabby tourist attraction in Florida and unpredictable family members flavor this highly imaginative novel.

"Staff Pick" by ,

I had never read a book about an alligator-wrestling theme park before, but, boy, did I ever love this one! Thirteen-year-old Ava is faced with the task of not only wrestling gators, but also of saving the theme park, her home, and her family. By turns hilarious, pensive, chilling, and redemptive, Swamplandia! starts out as a sort of swampy coming-of-age story, but, after wandering very far afield, ends up so much more. Truly wonderful.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Few novelists debut with as much hearty recommendation as Russell, a New Yorker 20-under-40 whose cunning first novel germinates a seed planted in her much-loved collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. We return to Swamplandia!, the once-thriving Florida tourist attraction where the Bigtree clan — Ava, Ossie, Kiwi, and the Chief — wrestles alligators. After the death of mother Hilola — the park's star alligator wrestler — Ava, the youngest Bigtree, takes her place in the spotlight while her sister, Ossie, elopes with a ghostly man named Louis Thanksgiving, and brother Kiwi winds up sweeping floors at Swamplandia!'s competition. Worst of all is the disappearance of the Chief, spurring Ava to embark upon a rescue mission that will take her from the Gulf of Mexico to the gates of hell, occasionally assisted by an unlikely extended family that includes the geriatric Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and a tiny red alligator with the potential to save the park. Russell's willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Review A Day" by , "Writer Karen Russell is on record stating that, much as she loves reading realist fiction, she couldn't 'write a moving tale about a family of struggling car salesmen in Detroit,' even if 'somebody held a gun to my head.'

'But a family of alligator wrestlers in a mythic swamp? That,' she continued, 'I can do.'

Now she has, in Swamplandia!, a weird and wonderfully inventive first novel that also happens to be a moving, very real tale about a struggling family." (Read the entire Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review)
"Review" by , "Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell's archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air."
"Review" by , "Quirky, outlandish fiction: To say it's offbeat is to seriously underestimate its weirdness."
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