Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Brilliant, fresh, funny, and wise, Allegra Goodman has delighted readers with her short stories in The New Yorker and her critically acclaimed collections Total Immersion and The Family Markowitz. Her celebrated first novel, Kaaterskill Falls, was a national bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. The novel, wrote Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, "ratifies the achievement of the author's short stories, even as it announces the debut of a gifted novelist."
Now, in Paradise Park, Goodman introduces one of the most endearing, exasperating, and indomitable heroines in modern literature: Sharon Spiegelman. Abandoned by her folk-dancing partner, Gary, in a Honolulu hotel room, Sharon realizes she could return to Boston -- and her estranged family -- or listen to that little voice inside herself. The voice that asks: "How come Gary got to pursue his causes, while all I got to pursue was him?"
Thus, with an open heart, a soul on fire, and her meager possessions (a guitar, two Indian gauze skirts, a macrame bikini, and her grandfather's silver watch) Sharon begins her own spiritual quest: living with the red-footed boobies, embracing the Edenic rain forests of Molokai, seeking enlightenment (with and without men) at the Greater Love Salvation Church, the Consciousness Meditation Center, a couples workshop in Waikiki, the Torah-Or Institute in Jerusalem, and in Professor Friedell's University of Hawaii course on world religions. Ever the optimist, Sharon is sure each time that she has struck it rich "spiritually speaking" -- until she comes up empty.
Then, in a karmic convergence of events, Sharon starts on the path home to Judaism. Still, even as she embraces her tradition, Sharon's irrepressible self tugs at her sleeve. Especially when she meets Mikhail, falls truly in love at last, and discovers what even she could not imagine -- her destiny.
What first pushes Sharon on her spiritual quest? What elements in her past life do you think contributed the most to her present journey?
Why do you think she was so willing at first to just go along with Gary's ambitions? Is this common for many women? Why?
For a long time Sharon is searching for a glimpse of God. What is getting in the way of that search as she struggles forward? Why is her quest thwarted time and time again?
What is the difference between her explorations of other religions and her exploration of Judaism? How are her teachers different?
Although a search for God is very much on Sharon's mind, it doesn't prevent her from doing things most religions consider "immoral," such as living with Kekui or sleeping with Brian. Why do you think she doesn't feel guilty about these actions? What distinction does she make between morality and God?
What is Sharon hoping to find while researching birds with Brian or farming with Kekui? A spiritual revelation? Something else?
Once in a while Sharon still slips into telling lies about her parents or her past (see p. 205). Why do you think that is?
Sharon has a hard time reconciling her spiritual quest with Wayne in the second half of their relationship. Wayne is very supportive of her efforts -- what's missing for her?
Why are Mikhail and Sharon able to leave the Hasidic community so easily when the complications in their marriage contract come up?
What has Sharon found in Mikhail that she didn't find in her previous relationships?
How much responsibility do you think Sharon's parents have for her struggles to find meaning in life? Would things have been different for her if she'd found more support at home, or was her behavior determined by her personality?
After spending so much time exploring Judaism, why isn't it important for them to have a Jewish wedding?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Dell.
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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