Reading guide for Orfeo by Richard Powers

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Orfeo by Richard Powers X
Orfeo by Richard Powers
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 393 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The story of Orfeo, or Orpheus, is a Greek myth about a musician's descent into Hades to retrieve his dead beloved and return her to the land of the living. In what ways is Orfeo the story of a musician's descent into hell and his attempted act of resurrection?
  2. The power of music over memory and time is an essential part of this book. How does music generate nostalgia in Orfeo's characters?
  3. Els often compares events and processes in the natural world to music. What connections does he hear between music and living things?
  4. Els' dedication to music leads him to make sacrifices. In what ways do these sacrifices hurt him or help him? Are sacrifices like his worth it?
  5. Is Els a terrorist? Why or why not? What is he trying to accomplish by his fugitive tweets?
  6. What do Els's interests—music and chemistry—have in common? Why does his musical composition take a biological turn?
  7. Fear is a prevalent theme throughout the book. In what ways are characters afraid? What is art's relationship to fear?
  8. At different times in his life, Els lives with his wife and daughter, by himself, and with his dog, Fidelio. What do Els' living situations reveal about him and his art at these different times?
  9. Why is Els often unsatisfied with his compositions? What do you think he is looking for?
  10. What do you think Els is trying to accomplish on his road trip, and does he succeed?
  11. How does the novel use words to describe the wordless phenomenon of music? In what ways does Powers try to bring alive various challenging works of twentieth-century music? How much do we need to know in order to love a musical work? Can words ever add to the pleasure of listening?
  12. In the final scene, what do you think happens when Els walks out the door? How is that choice like the others in his life? What does this action signify, as his final "composition"?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company. 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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Beyond the Book:
  Creating Music from Science

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