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    Original Essays | July 14, 2015

    Joshua Mohr: IMG Your Imagination, Your Fingerprint

    When I was in grad school, a teacher told our workshop that if a published novel is 300 pages, the writer had to generate 1,200 along the way. I... Continue »
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1 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z

Broken for You


Broken for You Cover

ISBN13: 9780802142108
ISBN10: 0802142109
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. How is Margaret portrayed in the beginning? Who is this woman who is entombed in a vast, carefully dusted house with her father?s collection? An unlikely heroine, she is an old, peculiar recluse. How is her diagnosis an inciting force for change? Talk about her growing appreciation of the uncommonness of common things.

2. In the clamor of the first armload of plate crashing, Wanda ?suddenly knew that she had found a home with someone who was as deeply aggrieved and crazy as she was. It was tremendously comforting? (p. 133). How does the Hughes house, truly a sanatorium, provide a haven and structure for these women to pass through madness to sanity? Can you think of other books or plays that explore the same theme?

3. When Wanda reflects on her life in the theater, she says, ?You?re part of this intense family for a while, and then everyone moves on? (p. 165). How does Troy shift the rules? What is different about the steady accretion of people at the Hughes house?

4. How much is it possible to know another person? What are the limitations imposed on characters in Broken for You, both by accidents of history and by their own actions? Even with breakthroughs of knowledge and trust, do any characters keep a part that is private? Which ones? Margaret and Wanda, for instance, as close as they are, each retain core secrets until almost the end. Why? And what are the secrets? Why does M. J. Striker withhold his own secret and recognition so long?

5. What do we learn about Margaret?s mother? How does she function in the book? Were you reminded of Noël Coward?s Blithe Spirit? In her visitations, what is her value to Margaret? There is high comedy in her shenanigans. ?Oh, Margaret really! You must enjoy this hoopla while you can. Believe me when I tell you it?s no fun being part of a scandal after you?re dead? (p. 289). Is Margaret working something else out in these spectral appearances? (The visits of Daniel are fewer and very different. How?)

6. Did you find conflicts between traditional values and newer ones? Where? Which characters grow larger or more sympathetic from being challenged by younger people? Does the converse hold?

7. How is the theme of the quest important in the book? Which characters commit themselves to seeking someone lost? What are the results? Who abandons the quest and why? Are there surprising rewards?

8. Parenting is explored in various characters? stories. Discuss Oscar, Margaret, and Michael as parents. Others? How is the idea of surrogate parenting developed? How successful is it?

9. ?Once the door is open . . . you can?t shut it again, impose limits, set degrees of openness . . .? (p. 126). In what ways do Margaret and Wanda, and later Gus and M.J., irrevocably make themselves available and vulnerable to life?

10. What does it mean to bear witness in this book? ?Margaret had been given the privilege of bearing witness to Wanda?s life? (p. 126). What other characters participate in this act? What are the larger ramifications of bearing witness, and why does it matter? For instance, why does it matter to honor the dead and find out their stories and try to fulfill their wishes?

11. Talk about the title. To how many characters and things and ways of life does it pertain? What is meant by a ?dissolution of borders? on page 269?

12. How is the star motif expanded in the book? Think about the star imagery from Margaret to l942 school children in Europe. (See page 282 for some of Margaret?s own thoughts on the subject. And see page 290 for a further amplification of the symbol.)

13. ?The Hughes Collection Scandal: Desecration or Deification?? (p. 278). What do you think about the central occupation in the book? Art? Or half-crazed mayhem? What do Wanda?s pieces say about her as an artist? What does the media criticism of her work say about the art? ?Consider the artist?s point of view? (p. 293). Do you accept the premise that salvation or restitution may come through destruction and loss?and moving on? Which characters find their own salvation through building up others?

14. How does the Crazy Plate Academy serve as a culmination of the process that has gone on through the book? ?Sorting was like beachcombing on a shore where every pebble is precious and time is boundless. And the familiar way everyone chatted?so many hands in constant, purposeful, attentive motion?gave Margaret the feeling of being at a quilting bee, a barn raising, or a wake? (pp. 327?328). What do these activities, certainly disparate, have in common?

15. How does the fact that neither Margaret nor Wanda is Jewish affect their joint efforts vis-à-vis the Holocaust victims and memories? When does expiation for her Nazi-sympathizer father become important for Margaret? Do you agree that ?at the center of this controversy is the concept of worth: what we as humans value?and why? (p. 280)? When Margaret is researching Irma?s past in Paris, she realizes, ?Bodies had been shattered and things had not? (p. 313). How directly does her involvement in the making of tesserae correct this imbalance? Does the appearance of the Jewish patron Babs Cohen add credibility to the undertaking? Discuss other times Judaism appears in the novel. Think about, for instance, Sam Kosminsky singing in Hebrew at dinner, the background imagery of Kristallnacht (p. 227), the museum in Paris, and Bruce singing the blessing.

16. Irma Kosminsky is the most vocal proponent for doing mitzvahs. What are some of them? How do you explain her life-affirming resilience and sense of humor? How does she explain it? In a conversation with M.J. we hear ?Why bother, Mrs. K? . . . We both know you?re going to win? (p. 274). Apart from Scrabble, how else does Irma ?win? in the book?

17. Discuss Stephanie Kallos?s definition of a relationship: ?a marvel of construction, built up over time and out of fragments of shared experience . . . Maybe we feel such a strong kinship with pique assiette because it is the visual metaphor that best describes us; after all, we spend much of our lives hurling bits of the figurative and literal past into the world?s landfill?and then regret it. We build our identities from that detritus of regret. Every relationship worth keeping sustains, at the very least, splintered glazes, hairline fractures, cracks. And aren?t these flaws the prerequisites of intimacy?? (p. 295). Do you find this an alarming view of human behavior? Or do you find it oddly comforting?

18. What is the significance of the Sevre chocolate service? How is the mystery resolved? What is the story of the single teacup? ?It was like that all through the war, things like that, little things that people did? (p. 321). What ultimately is the fate of the tête-à-tête?

19. How is the poetry of Yeats interwoven in the book? Why in particular should it be Yeats who recurs?

20. What were the funniest parts of the book for you? Think of Irma, with her dry survivor wit as well as her bolder humor. Recall Maurice, whose clumsiness is a boon in the Hughes house. And Margaret?s outrageous mother. Talk about other moments of high or low comedy.

21. How are love and sex recurring symbols of healing and joy? Think about specific relationships, those that survive and those that don?t. Describe M.J.?s loves, both as Striker and as O?Casey. How do you compare young love to that of older people? Why does Wanda wait so long to accept Troy as her lover? What does the parenthood of Susan and Bruce say about love, sex, and family?

22. The china, both whole and in pieces, generates stories, such as the ice-fishing ninety-two-year-old Alta Fogle. ?Maybe this is true. Maybe not. You can never be sure: all objects in the Hughes house have to have meaning, and if their past is not known, stories are invented? (p. 337). In chapter thirty-two, the narrator addresses the reader directly, as if one were M. J. Striker approaching the Hughes house. ?Pay attention. Let your mind embrace metaphors. It?s your first clue about what goes on here? (p. 337). How do these quotations help us understand multiple levels of the story? Is the making of mosaic art also a metaphor for writing stories, the novel, for instance?

23. Did you find the dream sequences effective in conjuring up the memories and surreal perceptions of the injured Wanda and the dying Margaret? As a reader was it hard for you to suspend disbelief in a kind of free fall? Have you encountered magic realism in other books? In the third dream sequence, Margaret approaches Wanda. ?Be happy. . . . We?re worth more broken? (p. 348). How is the last line of Margaret?s dream, ?The balloon arcs up forever, into the night sky, past millions of glittering stars? (p. 350), magically apt?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

dqnut24, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by dqnut24)
Lyrically written story that explores the bonds of friendship, loyalty and love.
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Lynn Grimm, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Lynn Grimm)
Beautifully crafted, multi-layered, peopled with complex and inspiring characters. I read the last page and wanted to start over again, sure that I'd only just begun to absorb the lessons this book holds for me.
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Gypsy Lady, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by Gypsy Lady)
I can count the books I have reread on one hand and have fingers leftover. This is one I re-read this year and have recommended it to my bookclub(one of many). The positive response has been very reassuring.
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Product Details

Kallos, Stephanie
Grove Press
FICTION / Literary
Domestic fiction
Psychological fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Publication Date:
9 x 6 in 14.5 oz

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Broken for You Used Trade Paper
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Product details 400 pages Grove Press - English 9780802142108 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'The dead, Margaret thought. They can be so loud.' So muses the protagonist of this dreamy, powerful tale of familial warring, secrets and redemption. When elderly Margaret Hughes discovers that she has a malignant brain tumor, she refuses treatment and decides to take a nice young tenant into her huge, lonely Seattle mansion for company. What she gets is Wanda Schultz, a tough-as-nails stage manager who is secretly seeking the man who left her and prone to inexplicable weeping breakdowns. Wanda, ignorant of Margaret's illness, is intrigued by the museum-like house and its eccentric owner — so when Margaret unexpectedly invites her to a drink-champagne-and-break-the-priceless-antique-china party for two, she's delighted. But a dark history lurks; the houseful of gorgeous antique porcelain comes from Margaret's father's WWII pilfering of European Jewish homes. Meanwhile, Wanda's father, who deserted her years ago, is on the road trying to heal, and Margaret's mother's ghost is haunting the Seattle mansion, lounging about in expensive peignoirs and criticizing her only daughter. Wrestling to keep the dead and the ghosts of their pasts at bay, the two women slowly build an extraordinary friendship, and when Wanda discovers a talent for mosaics, the past begins to quiet. Though it takes a while to get started, this haunting and memorable debut is reminiscent of early Atwood, peopled by lovably imperfect and eccentric characters. Agent, Simon Lipskar at Writer's House. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "Stephanie Kallos's lovely and heartfelt first novel is a gift. A story of broken hearts and broken promises, it is also the story of the ways we put things back together — messily, beautifully, and ultimately triumphantly. Kallos is a writer to watch, and one who, mercifully, still believes in happy endings."
"Review" by , "Let the angels in! With this story of transformative friendships, Stephanie Kallos calls us to leave the dreary wisdom of our lives and seek the company of souls adrift. Good things come in pieces."
"Review" by , "In this sparkling debut novel, Stephanie Kallos has created an extraordinary testament to the power of love and forgiveness. Broken For You is a big-hearted book that pulses with life."
"Review" by , "A seventy-six-year-old woman who's just learned that she has a brain tumor takes in a thirty-four-year-old woman who's just been dumped by her boyfriend. Can this be funny? Yes. Painfully funny, beautifully written, and completely original. I love this novel."
"Review" by , "Theater veteran Kallos debuts with a dazzling mosaic of intersecting lives and fates....Kallos has a rare, deft way with whimsy, dream sequences and hallucinations. Comparisons to John Irving and Tennessee Williams would not be amiss in this show-stopping debut."
"Review" by , "Tikkun olam is a Hebrew phrase that means 'repair the world,' and this imperative serves as the narrative catalyst of Broken for You....This is a novel of redemption."
"Review" by , "Broken for You is moving and endearing, painful and satisfying, put together in just the right shape."
"Synopsis" by , A fresh and compulsively readable debut novel about two women in self-imposed exile whose lives intersect, transforming both their worlds. Septuagenarian Margaret Hughes has spent most of her adult life alone in a mansion filled with antique porcelain whose dark origins hold a mysterious force over her. When she learns she is dying, she opens her home to a succession of oddball boarders, which is how she meets Wanda, a broken-hearted woman chasing the man who deserted her. As these two broken souls come together to form an unusual improvised family, past wrongs, both personal and historical, are repaired. Broken for You is funny, heartbreaking and alive with a potpourri of eccentric and irresistible characters, and will appeal to fans of Anne Tyler or John Irving.
"Synopsis" by , Funny, heartbreaking and alive with a potpourri of eccentric and irresistible characters, this fresh debut novel is about two women in self-imposed exile whose lives intersect, transforming both their worlds.
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