Reading Guide Questions
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The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls. We hope they will enrich your understanding of this wonderful novel of faith, families, and ancient tradition--a story of passionate love and passionate conflict that confirms Goodman as one of the singular writers of her generation.
It is the summer of 1976. In the beautiful country of upstate New York lies Kaaterskill, a tiny town where Jewish Orthodox summer people and Yankee year-rounders live side by side from June to August. Elizabeth Shulman, mother of five daughters, needs a project of her own outside her cloistered community. Across the street, Andras Melish cannot overcome the ambivalence he feels toward his own children and his beautiful young wife. At the top of the hill, Rav Elijah Kirshner is nearing the end of his life, and he struggles to decide which of his sons should succeed him. Behind the scenes, alarmed as his beloved Kaaterskill is overdeveloped by the local real estate broker, Judge Miles Taylor keeps an old secret in check, biding his time...
Within this community Allegra Goodman weaves magic. From first word that she was at work on her debut novel, a genuine buzz began to build as the literary community awaited her results. Met with universal acclaim, Kaaterskill Falls, a national bestseller, fulfilled the promise and became a finalist for the National Book Award.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
In the summer of '76, the Shulmans and the Melishes migrate to Kaaterskill, the tiny town in upstate New York where Orthodox Jews and Yankee year-rounders live side by side from June through August. Elizabeth Shulman, a devout follower of Rav Elijah Kirshner and the mother of five daughters, is restless. She needs a project of her own, outside her family and her cloistered community. Across the street, Andras Melish is drawn to Kaaterskill by his adoring older sisters, bound to him by their loss and wrenching escape from the Holocaust. Both comforted and crippled by his sisters' love, Andras cannot overcome the ambivalence he feels toward his children and his own beautiful wife. At the top of the hill, Rav Kirshner is coming to the end of his life, and he struggles to decide which of his sons should succeed him: the pious but stolid Isaiah, or the brilliant but worldly Jeremy. Behind the scenes, alarmed as his beloved Kaaterskill is overdeveloped by Michael King, the local real estate broker, Judge Miles Taylor keeps an old secret in check, biding his time....
1. The community of the Kirschners takes everything the Rav Elijah says to be the final word in how they live their lives--and treats him as someone very close to God. Does the Rav see himself that way?
2. Why do the members of this orthodox community stay so close to the teachings of Rav Elijah--even when they go against their own inclinations or desires? What is so important to them about this community?
3. Why is Elizabeth so dependent on Isaac's support to open her store? If she could have seen the Rav by herself, would she still need Isaac's blessing?
4. Why is Isaac so ready to support Elizabeth in a new job--after her store has been shut down and she gives birth? What does this say about the way he views her--and her role in their family?
5. Andras and Nina's marriage was also of their own choice, yet it has been unhappy for many years. Why?
6. How has Andras's relationship with his sisters both helped and harmed him over the years? Was he too dependent on them to become a true part of his own family--with his wife and children?
7. Jeremy has been a confirmed bachelor throughout his adult life. How much of that is out of rebellion to his family and community?
8. Isaiah's wife, Rachel, is more vocal about the Rav's mistreatment of her husband. Her ambitions for her husband are high--but she still holds the position of Rav in reverence. How can she respect someone she's so angry with? How does she reconcile those feelings--or does she?
9. How are Cecil's rebellions--marrying Beatrix, speaking out for Zionism, having a naming ceremony for his daughter--different from Jeremy's? Why do people accept his behavior more readily than Jeremy's, and why is he happier?
10. Elizabeth and her daughter Chani are both rebelling against the conventions of the community in their own ways. Will this make it easier on Chani if she decides to go to Israel?
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