Reading guide for All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka

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All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well

by Tod Wodicka

All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2009, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About the Book

As unusual as its title, All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well by Tod Wodicka is a deeply moving, darkly comic, and unforgettable debut novel that explores the ways in which we destroy those we love, try to hide in the past and memory, and then must lay ourselves bare in order to rebuild our lives. The difficulties of family are explored in brilliantly imaginative detail through the unique voice of Burt Hecker: a sixty-three-year-old medieval re-enactor who, after abandoning the female chant workshop he has led to Germany, sets off on a quest to reunite with his estranged son, Tristan, in Prague.


Reader's Guide

  1. Fathers are missing throughout the novel, and missing in particularly violent ways: Anna’s father and husband kill themselves; Burt’s father may have raped his mother. What does it mean that the one father who is present, Burt, tries to disappear into the past?
  2. What do you think turns Anna Bibko into a woman obsessed with her family’s people, the Lemkos, and particularly with the crimes against them? How is this like or unlike Burt’s obsession with a world far before his own time?
  3. Why do you think the author chose Burt as a first-person narrator? What might have the story been like if one of the other characters had told Burt’s tale? What does this suggest about the trustworthiness of Burt’s voice?
  4. The essence of the novel seems to be the relationship between parents and children, and the ways we fail our children and feel that they fail us. Burt states that “families are historical things. You have to believe in them for them to be real.” What do you think the different characters believe about family and the reality of familial relationships?
  5. Consider the music chanting workshop that Burt is part of, and the Hildegard von Bingen music that he and Tristan listen to together, as well as the Lemko folk songs that Tristan goes to seek. What role does music play in the novel? And what does it suggest about the needs of children to escape their family that Tristan, in the end, leaves both the medieval and Lemko worlds behind in his music?
  6. Burt claims that history is always ours for the reliving. Do you feel, as Burt does, that “reality is re-enactment”?
  7. The title of the novel comes from Julian of Norwich’s meditation on sin. The opening and closing come from the life of Hildegard von Bingen. Why do you think the author chose to frame the novel with these female religious figures, both representative of a certain kind of visionary mysticism?
  8. The beginning–a retelling of the entombment of Hildegard–is about the sacrifice of a child. Do you think Burt sacrifices either or both of his children? To what end?
  9. Consider the section titles: The Emigrants, Kitty, The Castle. What do you make of these titles? Who are the emigrants, and what is the castle?
  10. Examine Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Portrait of an Elderly Man with His Son. What do you think Burt sees when he stares at this painting? What do you think is the meaning of his nose in the story, and how do you think it affects Burt when June changes her inherited nose? What role does disfigurement as a whole play in the novel, and how is it related to the idea of otherness–of being an outcast?
  11. We hear and see little about the relationship between Tristan and June. What do you imagine that relationship to be like? How do you see your own family dynamics reflected in the novel?
  12. What role does Lonna Katsav fulfill in the story? Is she a mediating force, a meddler, a woman searching for a way into a family?
  13. What is the meaning of Max Werfel’s search for his family? Is the fact that Max and Burt can’t communicate important to the arc of the story?
  14. What is the role of geography in the novel, the importance of place?
  15. Burt speaks very little about his own past: he tells Kitty some, and takes her to the orphanage where he was raised by nuns. Why do you think he pushes his past away? Do you think his children know about his own lost family?
  16. What is the relationship between June and her father–who is, biologically, her true father, a fact that may not be true of Tristan? In many ways–physically, their faces; temperamentally, their feeling like outsiders–daughter and father are very similar. Burt reflects that “I’ve often seen my daughter there, in those eyes, waiting, pleading almost, for me to hurry up and figure her out.” Yet Burt seems focused solely on Tristan. Why do you think this is the case?
  17. Regarding the question of parentage, Anna states that she knows for a fact that Tristan isn’t Burt’s biological son. Do you think this is something Burt has known all along as well?
  18. What do you make of the relationship between Burt and Kitty, and particularly of the scene when Kitty foresees their future?
  19. What role do blame and forgiveness play in the lives of the different characters?
  20. What is the importance of the imagined Lemko scenes–of Anna watching her grandfather die, and Kitty seeing that death and his funeral? Do you think these are authorial insertions, or still Burt’s framing of the story? What does it mean that Anna’s grandfather tells her that she “can never go far,” right after Anna is imagining burning down any trace of the Lemko in herself?
  21. Do the signs at the end point to a future reconciliation, a reconstruction of the family? Consider Burt’s realization that “my daughter and I have the same goal.” What goal is this? What else does Burt see more clearly in the end, and what does it mean that he identifies himself with Hildegard, but foresees an ending that opens into light, instead of death?
     

Suggested Reading

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
The Metamorphosis
by Franz Kafka
In the Wake by Per Petterson

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