Reading guide for Firebird by Janice Graham

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by Janice Graham

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  • First Published:
    Jun 1998, 301 pages
    Jul 1999, 335 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The book's title evokes the legend of the phoenix, a mythological bird that burned to death on a pyre, only to be resurrected and reborn. How does Janice Graham adapt and adopt the story of the phoenix? How are the elements of sacrifice in the phoenix legend echoed in Firebird?

  2. Like every responsible rancher, Ethan must burn his fields in order to clear the way for new life. What other characters destroy their old lives--or parts of their old lives--so that new ones may emerge? Are they always successful? How are the practices of farming and ranching appropriate metaphors for these characters' re-creations and rebirths?

  3. The novel suggests the possibility of redemption in both sacred and everyday ways. At one point, Mrs. Winegarner tells Ethan how Annette's music renewed her son's interest in life. In what other ways do the characters receive some sort of redemption? Have you experienced a similar renewal?

  4. The three main characters are forced, through tragedy, to broaden their perspectives. Who do you think undergoes the greatest transformation?

  5. One of the novel's main themes is loss, and the ways in which we cope with it. After losing her first child, Annette has Eliana, whose name means "God has answered me." How are the other characters' losses "answered," or left unanswered?

  6. Annette is an expatriate who makes a home for herself and her daughter in Paris; both her father and Ethan are shocked that she'd ever leave the land of her birth. At midlife, though, Annette thinks that she could move back to Kansas and live there happily. What do you think Graham is saying about our ties to our land? Do you think people can definitively leave behind their homelands, or will they always return? Is there a place you feel as strongly about as Ethan feels about the Flint Hills?

  7. Each of the characters in this book is afraid of something. Even Ethan, who gives the impression of security and self-confidence, has his fears. What frightens him, and how does he address his worries? What are other characters in the book afraid of, and how do they overcome--or succumb to--their fears?

  8. In her unsent letter, Annette accuses Ethan of not opening himself to profound or unsettling emotions. She also accuses him of cowardice and asks him how he can so love the poets he does, when "misery is so distasteful" to him. Is Annette correct in her assessment of Ethan? Is there a turning point for him?

  9. By book's end, Katie Anne, Ethan, and Annette are inextricably bound to one another. One physical incarnation of their relationship is the volume of Yeats's poetry passed among them. What does Yeats mean by "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you"? How do Katie Anne's and Annette's "pilgrim souls" differ, and what do they have in common?

Reproduced with the permission of Penguin Putnam

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley 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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