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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries)

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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) 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 6) 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 36, 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 183, 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 221) 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 245, what did you expect to happen as a result?

18. On page 247, 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?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com) 

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 29 comments:

alibeale, January 2, 2013 (view all comments by alibeale)
this is the kind of book that is a pleasure to begin reading - you know you are in the hands of a good writer. the subject matter(crazy 'circus' family and their conflicts) is also a pleasure - i love idiosyncratic families, that are really like everyone else, only more so. kind of reminds me of john irving's fantastical morality plays, but not as preachy.
i also like books that are filled with details about stuff i don't know about - like florida geography and folklore.
i highly recommend this for anyone who likes a good yarn -
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leslee, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by leslee)
Savory and masterful, Swamplandia is like nothing I've ever read before, and I can't wait to read it again!
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Madam Pince, October 25, 2012 (view all comments by Madam Pince)
I expected so much more from this novel: magical realism, Southern gothic, the kitsch of Florida. Instead I found a story that started off powerfully, but straggled into a tired, ordinary tale that overstayed its welcome -- by the time Ava makes her trip into Hell, the reader is already there. I expected much better from the author of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307276681
Author:
Russell, Karen
Publisher:
Vintage Books
Author:
Karen Russell
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
20110731
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
A <br> <i>&#160;</i><br> &ldquo;[Russell&rsquo;s]
Language:
English
Pages:
416
Dimensions:
8 x 5.2 x 0.9 in 0.6875 lb

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Swamplandia! (Vintage Contemporaries) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.50 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Vintage Books - English 9780307276681 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.

"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."
"Review" by , "Absolutely irresistible....A suspenseful, deeply haunted book....A marvel."
"Review" by , "[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned....Russell has deep and true talent."
"Review" by , "Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride....This family, wrestling with their desires and demons...will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!"
"Review" by , "The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement."
"Synopsis" by , A New York Times Best Book of the Year

One of Granta's Best Young American Novelists

Selected for the New Yorker's 20 Under 40

Nominated for the Orange Prize

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.

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