Reading guide for The Seine by Elaine Sciolino

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The Seine

The River that Made Paris

by Elaine Sciolino

The Seine by Elaine Sciolino X
The Seine by Elaine Sciolino
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2020, 304 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Elaine Sciolino opens the book with her decision to move to Paris, a time in her life that was filled with heartbreak and uncertainty. As she writes, "I arrived with no sources, no lovers, no family, no friends, no mission except to start fresh in a city all the world loves" (p. 3). Would you ever leave behind all you know in search of happiness and healing? How did Sciolino, as a recently divorced young reporter, find herself and flourish so far from home?
  2. The Seine River is always depicted as a woman. Why?
  3. Sciolino becomes fascinated with the story of Sequana, a Gallo-Roman healing goddess who ruled over a temple at the sources of the Seine. In one version of the Sequana story, she escapes the clutches of the lascivious sea god Neptune. How might Sequana be seen as an early feminist role model?
  4. What would be your own "Sequana" passion project? What did you find most inspirational about the Seine's legacy based on Sciolino's journey from the sources of the river all the way to the sea?
  5. In what ways did the Seine play a significant role in Napoléon Bonaparte's life?
  6. Napoléon III is credited with saying, "Paris owes its prosperity to the Seine" (p. 32). What role has the river played throughout its history and in everyday life today in fulfilling that saying?
  7. How did the Pont Neuf change and shape Paris after its completion in the early seventeenth century?
  8. Some of the world's earliest photographs were taken on the river. How has the Seine inspired photographers? Why have so many movies been set in Paris—and on the Seine?
  9. Many people live in houseboats along the river. A romantic way to live, or just plain dark and damp?
  10. What have the efforts to clean the Seine done to reinvigorate the river? How has the public's interactions with the river changed as it has become less polluted?
  11. What value did Sciolino's conversations with the booksellers add to her life in Paris? What did she learn from them about French culture?
  12. There are more than one hundred songs about the Seine. What can they tell us about the personality of the river?
  13. How and why did the Impressionists become obsessed with painting the Seine?
  14. The Seine has also been a river of death and suicide. Explore the dark side of this river.
  15. The import of the Seine to Paris has always been monumental. How do Sciolino's stories of various Parisians' interactions with the river, from commerce to wedding photos to leisure, illustrate the importance of the river in a much more intimate way?
  16. From the Vikings to Joan of Arc to the World Wars of the twentieth century, the city of Rouen has played a crucial role during important historical moments in France's history. Why is the history of the Seine in Rouen overshadowed by that of Paris?
  17. What role did the Seine River play in putting out the Notre-Dame fire? How can the river contribute to rebuilding Paris's most visited tourist site?
  18. Paris is called the most romantic city in the world and the Seine has earned a reputation for being the most romantic river in the world. Are these claims valid and why? How has this reputation been perpetuated? Does it have more to do with the river, or the city through which it flows?
  19. How does Sciolino see herself and her life's journey in the ever-changing nature of the Seine?


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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