Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book After the Fire, a Still Small Voice illuminates the ties that bind men together and the wars, both personal and national, that drive them apart. From Canberra to the small beach town of Mulaburry comes Frank Collard, trying to put behind him painful memoriesincluding the recent and turbulent departure of the woman he loves. Fifty years back, Leon Collard lives a quiet life in Sydney with his immigrant parents, who run a local bakery. But when Leons father enlists to fight in the Korean War and returns a broken man, the family crumbles. Years later, Leon runs into his generations war and, devastatingly, becomes a conscripted soldier in Vietnam.
As these two story lines unfold, we learn how Franks and Leons lives are intertwined. Set in a place where the land is old but the wounds are fresh, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice powerfully explores the inescapable past.
In many ways, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice is about love stories: Franks grandparents, his parents, and his own relationship with Lucy. What do you make of these relationships? What do they say about what is possible between two people, and if there is a price to be paid for love?
What part does gender play in the novel? Are the women portrayed differently from the men? If so, in what particular ways?
The land and the sea play intimate roles in the lives of all the characters. Have you been to Australia, or any place that reminds you of what you read? Does Wyld capture the essence of the land? How do you think it shapes the characters?
Discuss the style of the writing: Did Wyld succeed in expressing the tone of the story in your view? What is that tone? What did you think of her use of simile, specifically with animals and fruit, to describe characters and their actions?
Why do you think Wyld chose to make Leons father a baker? Is it a profession that fits his character, and Leons? How did you react to Franks stating that he never understood why his father was a baker, since he was so bad at it?
Friendships are hard-fought in the novel, and formed through war and circumstance, with the exception of Franks with Bo Flowers. What do you think of Bo? Why doesnt Frank decide to run off with him? Is the scene where Bo gets into bed with Frank significant?
The town where Frank lives is haunted by the disappearance of Joyce Mackelly, and the eventual discovery of her jawbone. The Haydons lose their daughter to leukemia. Leons parents abandon him, never knowing he is off at war. How does the loss and abandonment of children affect the narrative?
Compare and contrast the two mens escapes: Leon traveling across the desert and his time at the campsite with other vets; Frank returning to the cabin to which his grandparents originally retreated. How do these journeys mirror or diverge from each other? What do the mens choices say about their personal histories?
What is Sals role in the novel, and how is her journey into the bush different from Leons and Franks?
Race is an undercurrent throughout the novel, and occasionally an overt issue. What does it mean that Leons parents were Belgian Jews? How is their struggle for a homeland related or separate from the tension between Aboriginal and white Australians?
Neither, Leons father, Leon, nor Frank have any siblings. Do children without brothers and sisters carry a bigger burden? Sal is, through the loss of her sister, also an only child. How is her experience and relationship with her parents different or similar to the mens relationships with their parents?
Do Leon and his father feel differently about their service, with Leon drafted and his father a volunteer? What emotions do we see in his fathers letters home? What are your own experiences with war? Did the novel help you explore any of your feelings about war, about servicemen and -women, about your own history?
Both Frank and Leon hear sounds that seem to follow thema hiss, a growl, a rustle in the bush. Are they real or imagined noises? Why do you think they hear them?
Leon takes photos of himself after his parents leave him and throughout his time in Vietnam. Why do you think he feels the need to do this? Discuss the photographs he takes during the war, and what you think they mean to him. Why does he keep them afterward in an album?
The title comes from a biblical verse, which is referenced in several different places in the novel: After the Earthquake, a fire (on the lighter that Leon buys, p. 179); AFTER THE FIRE A STILL SMALL VOICE (an embroidery that Leon makes, p.235); After the wind, an earthquake (Leon waking himself during his journey into the desert, p. 263). Discuss the uses of the title, and what meaning it has for Leon, for Frank, and for the book as a whole.
Leon leaves the other vets when they murder a cow who has a calf. When he thought about being a father he worried he wouldnt love the calf enough (p. 290). How is the cows death related to his becoming a parent? What do these two scenes suggest about Leons capacity for love?
Frank said in the beginning that there are things that needed to be forgotten about (p. 4). What does the novel suggest about forgetting? Is it possible? Is it necessary? How does Franks statement connect to Bobs much later, that there are some things you cant get away from. . . . And thats the pity (p. 175).
Frank speaks with Leons new wife about forgiveness. She believes in biblical forgiveness; Frank believes in the forgiveness between men, between child and parent. Has Frank forgiven his father? Why does he leave without saying good-bye? Does Franks departure suggest that some breaks are unfixable? Are there some things that are unforgivable?
The novel goes back and forth between Leon and Frank, but never tells their story together. What do you think about this? What do you imagine their history was like? Would it even be possible to tell the story of their relationship, or would there always be something missing and forever misunderstood between them? What is your own relationship like with your parents? Did the novel, which explores the losses that families bear (sickness, murder, trauma, abuse, or the failure of love for whatever cause), change your understanding of your own family?
Do you think Frank has changed by the end of the novel, and, if so, why and in which ways? What do you think of Lucys choices regarding her relationship with Frank? Both Franks and Leons stories close on a note of gracewhy do you think Wyld chose these endings for each story line?
Tom Bissell, The Father of All Things
Ron Carlson, Five Skies
Ernest Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories
David Malouf, An Imaginary Life
Tim OBrien, The Things They Carried
Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses
Rachel Seiffert, Afterwards
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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