Visible Empire: Book summary and reviews of Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard

Visible Empire

by Hannah Pittard

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard X
Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard
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  • Published in USA  May 2019
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

An epic novel—based on true events—of love, grief, race, and wealth, charting a single sweltering summer in Atlanta that left no one unchanged.

On a humid summer day, the phones begin to ring: disaster has struck. Chateau de Sully, a Boeing 707 chartered to ferry home more than one hundred of Atlanta's most prominent citizens from a European jaunt, crashed in Paris shortly after takeoff. It is the second-deadliest disaster in the history of aviation. Overnight, the city of Atlanta changes.

Left behind are children, spouses, lovers, and friends faced with renegotiating their lives. Robert, a newspaper editor, must decide if he can reconnect with his beloved but estranged wife, whose swindler parents have left her penniless. Nineteen-year-old Piedmont Dobbs, recently denied admission to an integrated school, senses a moment of uncertain opportunity. And Mayor Ivan Allen is tasked with the job of moving Atlanta forward—the hedonism of the 60s and the urgency of the Civil Rights movement at his city's doorstep.

Visible Empire is the story of a husband and wife who can't begin to understand each other until chaos drives them to clarity. It's a story of the promise and hope that remain in the wake of crisis.

Published in hardcover in 2018

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. While the details of the Orly plane crash are factual, in Visible Empire Hannah Pittard fictionalizes the lives of Atlanta's residents affected by the crash. What do you make of this balance between fact and fiction? And, do you find that the artistic liberties Pittard takes help you better understand the historical resonances of this catastrophic event?
  2. Pittard offers us many perspectives—including the collective voice, "everyone"—but she centers the narrative around Robert, Piedmont, Anastasia, and Ivan & Lulu. Why do you think she chooses these characters to drive the story?
  3. On the day of the plane crash, Piedmont is at work and watches the black-and-white footage of the wreckage on the small TV above the counter. "His first thought—and he felt bad for it after, though that didn't stop him from thinking it in the first place—was that the city had it coming" (page 42). What do you think he means by this?
  4. On page 72, Lulu says to Ivan, "Someone has to pay for this." Discuss the significance of this. Whom does she believe must pay? And, does anyone ultimately end up paying?
  5. Mayor Ivan Allen bears a great responsibility—to keep Atlanta's spirits in tact (as much as may be possible) and to keep the city moving forward. How does he cope with this duty? How does he balance his grief with his obligations to the city's residents?
  6. On page 92, Robert is on his first flight since the news broke about the Orly crash. He believes he is going to die—his armpits are wet, his shirt drenched through. But, suddenly, "He felt clear-eyed and clear-headed, and above all he felt—yes, yes, yes—he felt that it was imperative, absolutely imperative, that he find his way back to Lily, the one true love of his life." What causes this significant shift in him? Why does he feel this way in the moment? And, how does he go about trying to find his way back to Lily?
  7. On pages 195-197, Lily opens the letter from Rita to Robert and, after reading, begins feeling sympathy, even gratitude, for the letter's words. She thinks, "The timing of a revelation changed everything, didn't it?" And then, "The human heart, she understood at long last, was nothing if not confused and confusing." Discuss this revelation. What is she feeling in this moment and what has her distance from the situation offered her? Why does she feel sympathy for Rita? And how are her feelings toward both Robert and Piedmont evolving?
  8. Visible Empire is a work of historical fiction, but there are subjects explored here that, unfortunately, continue to be timely—racism and police brutality, in particular. Piedmont is haunted by what happened to Emmett Till, and the only brief moment in which he is "not a Negro or a Colored or a Boy or a Darkie or aware of color at all" (page 209) is when he brings Lily to the hospital. In 1962, the civil rights movement had already begun, but the country had—and continues to have—a long way to go. Discuss what has changed and what hasn't.
  9. As Anastasia and Billy leave Genie's home after tying her up and robbing her, Genie tells Anastasia that she immediately knew that "having [her] would be easy" (page 256). What does she mean by this? And why was Genie's remark "everything [Anastasia] ever feared" (256)?
  10. On the last page, Pittard writes, "This was life, a version of it" (page 271). What do you take this to mean?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

An Indie Next List Pick
An Amazon Editors' Pick for Summer Fiction
One of iBooks "Summer's Most Anticipated Books"
Belletrist Book Club's June Book of the Month
A New York Times Book Review "New & Noteworthy" Selection
An O, the Oprah Magazine "Top Book of Summer"
A Town & Country "Best Book to Read This June"
A Southern Living "Best New Book of Summer"
A Bitter Southerner "Upcoming Southern Novel We Can't Wait to Read"
A Refinery29 "Quick Beach Read Practically Written For Weekend Getaways"
A Globe and Mail "Coolest Book of the Season"
A Publisher's Lunch "Highly Anticipated" Title

"Captivating...[Pittard] brings her kaleidoscopic perspective to a catastrophe on an epic scale...With her keen eye for social markers and a deft weave of intersecting storylines, Pittard exposes social fissures and tensions over race and class, and how power and privilege play out in the shadows of grief." - Los Angeles Times

"Pittard's novel combines a sense of personal loss and turmoil with greater societal change as the civil rights movement arrives at its peak." - New York Times Book Review

"Pittard's earlier novels [...] established her as a formidable writer. The prose in Visible Empire [...] remains assured, polished, readable, and she renders a 1962 Atlanta that is vivid and just-enough interconnected. Ultimately, Pittard shoulders the burden of history with responsibility and resolve, and a brave imagination." - Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"On June 3, 1962, a flight carrying more than 100 of Atlanta's wealthiest residents crashed on takeoff from Paris. Pittard's kaleidoscopic novel, a fictionalized account of that disaster and its aftermath, illuminates the personal and communal grief (and, in some cases, wicked delight) of those left behind." - O, the Oprah Magazine, "Top Books of Summer"

"The writing throughout is masterful, bringing this turbulent time in local history to living, breathing life. A triumph." - Toronto Star

"Beautiful…In Pittard's masterful hands, the intricately woven plots and personalities that make up Visible Empire are relatable and corporeal...Pittard's command of voice is so dexterous and adroit…it takes an author of [her] caliber, finesse and nuance to articulate such a complicated place and time as Atlanta in the 1960s." - ArtsATL

"In 1962, Air France Flight 007 crashed upon takeoff and all 122 passengers - a group of prominent Atlanta citizens taking an inaugural jaunt on a route from Paris to Georgia - died. In this, the latest novel from Listen to Me author Hannah Pittard, that real-life crash kicks off a fictional series of events that changes a city and its people forever." - Town & Country

"Pittard's excellent novel fictionalizes the tragic true event that changed the lives of so many Atlantans." - Refinery29

"With the captivating Visible Empire, [Pittard] brings her kaleidoscopic perspective to a catastrophe on an epic scale...With her keen eye for social markers and a deft weave of intersecting storylines, Pittard exposes social fissures and tensions over race and class, and how power and privilege play out in the shadows of grief." - National Book Review

"Remarkable…There's a really surprising range in the characters' experiences and in what [Pittard] explores…Well-researched and deeply considered." - BookRiot, "All the Books"

"Visible Empire has made several best-of-summer-reads lists, but it's more than a cottage companion. Its theme alone - that staggering chaos can serve to bring clarity to life, that the least of us can find our path again - makes it a read to be remembered and shared." - Winnipeg Free Press

"Based on the true story of Air France flight 007 – which crashed after takeoff in Paris en route to Atlanta in 1962 – Visible Empire is a tensely wound novel that follows the shock waves of this forgotten air disaster across a hot, humid summer. The plane was a charter, chock full of Georgia's biggest names in the arts, the manifest of the fallen a who's who list in Atlanta society. Grief rises like a miasma over Hannah Pittard's fourth novel, but it's also a love story of sorts, centred around newspaperman Robert and his estranged wife Lily, unexpectedly left penniless after the death of her wealthy parents in the crash." - Globe and Mail, "46 Coolest Books to Read this Summer" 

"Atlanta native Pittard fills the novel with historical details, local points of reference, and distinct examinations of race and class...making it an evocative and discussion-worthy choice for readers who appreciate vivid settings." - Booklist

"Visible Empire starts out as an examination of a mass tragedy and slowly morphs into something more intimate and revelatory. Hannah Pittard's novel is a deeply resonant portrait of individuals - and a city - in the throes of grief, and on the cusp of momentous change." - Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher and Little Children
 
"Hannah Pittard is fast becoming one of the best writers of her generation, fusing the best aspects of literary and commercial fiction. Read her now, and thank me later." - Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

The information about Visible Empire shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Hannah Pittard Author Biography

Photo: Joe Wigdahl

Hannah Pittard is the author, most recently, of the novel Visible Empire, which was an Amazon Editors' Pick for Summer Fiction, an IndieNext List Pick, a New York Times "New and Noteworthy" Selection, an O Magazine Book of Summer, and one of Southern Living's Best New Books of Summer.

Her previous novel, Listen to Me, was a New York Times Editors' Choice, a Washington Post Best Summer Thriller, an Entertainment Weekly Seriously Scary Summer Read, a Millions Most Anticipated Book, a Lit Hub Buzz Book, and a Refinery 29 Best Books So Far. 

Other novels include Reunion (named a Millions Most Anticipated Book, a Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice, a BuzzFeed Top-5 Great Book, a "Best New Book" by People Magazine, a Top-10 Read by Bustle Magazine...

... Full Biography
Author Interview
Link to Hannah Pittard's Website

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