Reading guide for The Visible World by Mark Slouka

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Visible World

by Mark Slouka

The Visible World
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The Visible World is divided into three sections—"The New World: A Memoir," "Prague: Intermezzo," and "1942: A Novel"—each of which represents a different approach to the same essential story. Which section, do you think, is most "true"? Why? How do the three sections play off of each other to create a complex whole?
  2. The first section begins with the narrator stating, "I was born ... into a world that felt just slightly haunted." What haunts his family, his community? How do the ghosts of the past shape the course of the narrator's life?
  3. The narrator says of his childhood: "I collected the facts like a child hoping to build an oak from bits of bark." Do you believe that the narrator is ultimately able to reassemble a version of history that closely resembles the true events? How so or how not? Why does he try so earnestly to piece together the story?
  4. How would you characterize the relationship between the narrator's parents, Antonín and Ivana, as portrayed in "The New World: A Memoir"? How does the story told in the third section change or support the way you perceive their marriage? Do you think you would have made the same choices they did? How so or how not? Who is the more sympathetic character?
  5. In the New York Times Book Review, Eva Hoffman praised Slouka's investigation of "the uncertainties of cross-generational memory and the need to fill in the gaps." What compels us to construct stories out of our own histories? How does The Visible World illustrate this need? How have you made stories from your own personal or family history?
  6. How does The Visible World investigate the profound impact of secrecy, of information withheld, in love and in war? How are the lives of its characters shaped by what is known and what is unknown?
  7. The narrator describes the book's central relationship this way: "Theirs was a love story, and like any good love story, it left blood on the floor and wreckage in its wake." Who suffered most as a result of their love? Who lost the most? Would you describe theirs as a "good love story"? Why or why not?
  8. Fairy tales and literature figure prominently in the narrator's young life. How do these early stories resonate in his adult life?
  9. When streets in Prague's Old Town were inundated by floodwaters, first floors became cellars. In what way does this physical world buried beneath the present world work as metaphor? How can this idea of a hidden past be applied to storytelling, to truth, to the way history is recorded? How does it relate to the novel's title, The Visible World?
  10. Each of the characters encountered in the second section, "Prague: Intermezzo," offers a different memory of life in prewar and wartime Europe. How do you suppose the passage of time has altered these memories? How does the narrator apply the information he gathers in Prague to his reimagining of his parents' story?
  11. The narrator recalls: "I asked my father if he had ever been a hero. He said no, not even close to one, and because he was my father, I believed him." How might Antonín be regarded as a hero, in the ‘memoir' and in the ‘novel'? Why would he not have considered himself heroic? Do you think his son comes to regard him as such?
  12. What factors initially draw Tomáš and Ivana together? Do you believe the relationship would have lasted if it were not for the events of war? Why or why not? Do you agree with Antonín, who prays that Tomáš will live through the war so that habit can do its work and his and Ivana's love can "die on the field of days"?
  13. Tomáš and Ivana's love affair takes place in a setting seemingly far removed from the bleak realities of wartime. What does the near-mythical forest represent in the context of the novel? Why might the narrator have imagined the story this way? How does the lovers' last meeting in Prague contrast with their time in the forest?
  14. Antonín's friend Mirek suggests that Ivana will return to him when she grows tired of Tomáš. Antonín's reply is maybe, "and because he loved her as much as he did, he almost wished it could be otherwise." How did you interpret this almost-wish? What does it reveal about Antonín's love for Ivana, his regard for himself?
  15. The epigraph of The Visible World is taken from the poem "As I Walked Out One Evening" by W.H. Auden. How do Auden's lines resonate in Slouka's novel?
  16. The novel opens and ends with the same scene, that of Antonín getting dressed in the dark to go out and search for Ivana, who had gone for a walk in the forest at night. How does the context provided by the novel change how you perceive this scene? What emotions does it stir with each telling?

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hot Milk
    Hot Milk
    by Deborah Levy
    When people reach their early 20s, they often choose to go abroad – they want to get away from...
  • Book Jacket: Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    Ninety-Nine Stories of God
    by Joy Williams
    I have to preface this review by saying that I am not a fan of religious fiction - not even books ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Underground Airlines
    by Ben Winters

    "The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner in this outstanding alternate history thriller." - PW Star

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach

    "An auspicious, gut-wrenching, wonderful debut." - Kirkus, starred review

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Circling the Sun
by Paula McLain

An intoxicatingly vivid portrait of colonial Kenya and its privileged inhabitants.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.