Reading Guide Questions
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.
- Fathers are missing throughout the novel, and missing in particularly
violent ways: Annas father and husband kill themselves; Burts father may have
raped his mother. What does it mean that the one father who is present, Burt,
tries to disappear into the past?
- What do you think turns Anna Bibko into a woman obsessed with her familys
people, the Lemkos, and particularly with the crimes against them? How is this
like or unlike Burts obsession with a world far before his own time?
- 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 Burts
tale? What does this suggest about the trustworthiness of Burts voice?
- 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?
- 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?
- Burt claims that history is always ours for the reliving. Do you feel, as
Burt does, that reality is re-enactment?
- The title of the novel comes from Julian of Norwichs 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?
- The beginninga retelling of the entombment of Hildegardis about the
sacrifice of a child. Do you think Burt sacrifices either or both of his
children? To what end?
- 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?
- Examine Domenico Ghirlandaios 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 othernessof being an
- 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?
- 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?
- What is the meaning of Max Werfels search for his family? Is the fact
that Max and Burt cant communicate important to the arc of the story?
- What is the role of geography in the novel, the importance of place?
- 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?
- What is the relationship between June and her fatherwho is,
biologically, her true father, a fact that may not be true of Tristan? In many
waysphysically, their faces; temperamentally, their feeling like
outsidersdaughter and father are very similar. Burt reflects that Ive 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?
- Regarding the question of parentage, Anna states that she knows for a
fact that Tristan isnt Burts biological son. Do you think this is something
Burt has known all along as well?
- What do you make of the relationship between Burt and Kitty, and
particularly of the scene when Kitty foresees their future?
- What role do blame and forgiveness play in the lives of the different
- What is the importance of the imagined Lemko scenesof Anna watching her
grandfather die, and Kitty seeing that death and his funeral? Do you think these
are authorial insertions, or still Burts framing of the story? What does it
mean that Annas grandfather tells her that she can never go far, right after
Anna is imagining burning down any trace of the Lemko in herself?
- Do the signs at the end point to a future reconciliation, a
reconstruction of the family? Consider Burts 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?
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.
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