Reading Guide for 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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Please be aware that this discussion guide will 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?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Mariner Books. 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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