Synopses & Reviews
In the musty attic of an upstate New York house, a woman finds a clasped box, hidden away for over a century. Inside, wrapped in cambric and tied with a green ribbon, is an old manuscript written by a girl dreaming of a better life, fighting for survival, and coming of age in a time of chaos and danger. This wondrously told tale is a stirring adventure set in nineteenth-century England, a novel of rich history and vibrant imagination.
Amid the lush fields and gardens of an English estate, in a kitchen where every meal is a sumptuous feast, a young servant called Paddy anxiously hides her true identity. Using coal soot and grease, she conceals her flaming head of red hair and covers her body, desperate to keep the job she needs to survive. But the girl, whose real name is Mina, cannot conceal from herself the pain of her past or the beauty of an Ireland she remembers with love and grief—until she meets a man who convinces her to trust him, a man hiding sorrows of his own.
To the mysterious Mr. Serle—the estates skilled and quiet chef—Mina dares to confess her true identity and reveal a shattered past: her flight from the blighted fields of her homeland to the teeming streets of Liverpool...her memories of the family she lost and dreams for the future. And as Mina and Mr. Serle begin to know each other, an extraordinary journey begins—a journey of faith and identity, adventure and awakening, that will alter the course of both their lives.
The sights and sounds of nineteenth-century England come vividly to life in Jonatha Ceelys magnificent novel, a tale that explores the intricate relationship forged by two people in hiding. Moving and unforgettable, Mina is historical fiction at its finest—a novel that makes you think, feel, and marvel…until the last satisfying page is turned.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Mina" places readers in the vividly rendered below-stairs world of a 19th-century English country manor house. Here, a young Irish immigrant may briefly hide from woe in the chaos and careless brutality of life in the servant class.
About the Author
Jonatha Ceely grew up in Canada and has lived in Turkey and Italy. She is a former teacher and administrator who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband, who is a composer and teacher. She is currently at work on her second novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
Transporting readers to nineteenth-century Britain, from the enchantment of an English estate to the poverty-stricken villages of Ireland, Mina
introduces a courageous heroine whose tale evokes an endlessly fascinating chapter in history.
After a series of tragedies that rob her of home and family, young Mina goes to work for the gentry, in a kitchen where every meal is a feast of delicacies. Forced to conceal her identity—especially her gender and her unmistakable red hair—Mina navigates an unfamiliar world among strangers. Her sole defender and confidant is the estates chef, the mysterious Benjamin Serle, who also hides a shattered past. Together he and Mina dream of a better life while fighting painful memories, as well as a community that will never fully accept them. And, through wits and sheer willpower, they begin an extraordinary journey that will forever alter the course of both their lives.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jonatha Ceelys Mina. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.
1. In what ways does the books epigraph, a quote from Ivan Turgenev regarding the power of love and hunger, prove to be prophetic in Mina
? What kinds of love does Mina receive and give? For what does Mina hunger?
2. What is the effect of the books preface, which describes the discovery of an anonymous manuscript? How do the narrators contemporary observations enhance your introduction to Mina?
3. Minas tale unfolds in the first person. What do Minas voice and point of view tell us about her personality? What might her purpose have been in making a record of her experience?
4. Without her mother Mina must make discoveries about many aspects of life, from sexuality to spirituality, in unconventional ways. As Mina progresses from innocence to knowledge, does she develop a realistic or unreasonably harsh understanding of the world around her? Who had the greatest influence in shaping your own emergence from naïveté to maturity?
5. Discuss the significance of Minas disguise. What are the advantages and disadvantages of her role as Paddy? Does Minas temperament make her a typical boy in that culture? Would portraying a boy be as useful for a homeless teen in the modern world? Or in other cultures?
6. In what way does Mr. Serles illness shift the balance of power in his interactions with Mina? Do you consider them to be unlikely friends, or do they share considerable common ground?
7. What historical details did you learn from reading Mina? What factors distinguish Minas immigrant story from Mr. Serles? In what way does the history conveyed in both characters continue to impact our current events?
8. What do Minas dreams tell her about her deepest fears and longings? How would you assess the meaning of the dream she has at the end of Chapter Nineteen, when the four cryptic women appear before her?
9. Discuss the process through which Minas characters form their religious beliefs. In what ways is religion a factor in social rank and political power, both in the novel and in the contemporary world?
10. Though Mina is unable to believe that the souls of Mr. Serles family are safe, she does experience an awakening regarding the meaning of salvation. What does her transformation, along with the methods by which it occurred, teach us about building tolerance in our own communities?
11. Mina and Mr. Serle, as well as other would-be immigrants in the novel, long for various ideals represented by America. Would nineteenth-century America have measured up to those dreams?
12. What is the effect of the novels storytelling within stories as the recollections of Mina and Mr. Serle unfold? How do their storytelling styles compare?
13. Mina and Mr. Serle both carry the honored memories of ancestors, and the deep-seated traumas of tragedy. Does their understanding of the past, along with essential fears of fire and water, guide or hinder them in creating new memories?
14. Scripture refers to Daniel as a prophet whose spiritual faith protected him in a lions den. In what way does this name serve as a bridge between Mina and Mr. Serle, and as a bridge to America?
15. Consider the distance imposed between Mina and the estate owner. Are there any similarities between that chain of command and your own experience in the workplace? Does it make a difference when employees are able to have direct human interaction with their employers?
16. What do you predict for Tom and Susan, who seek the promise of industrialized Britain? Was their fate in any way shaped by Minas?
17. In the novels closing scenes, Mr. Serle pays Mr. Hatton even though Minas bond was not valid. Do you believe the reasons Mr. Serle gives for making this payment?