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Brookland



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About The Author

Emily BartonEmily Barton

Emily Barton's fiction has appeared in Story, American Short Fiction, and Conjunctions. Her first novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron, called "blessedly post-ironic, engaging, and heartfelt" by Thomas Pynchon, won the Bard Fiction Prize and was named a New York Times... More

photo: Copyright Greg Martin

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About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Brookland are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Brookland.



Discussion Questions

1. How were you affected by the presence of Prue’s letters? How does her storytelling compare to that in the rest of the novel?

2. Discuss the pivotal scene from Prue’s childhood in which she batters her doll (chapter one). How would you characterize Prue’s feelings toward Pearl throughout her life? Would their trust have been shattered later in life regardless of Prue’s guilt about her alleged hex?

3. What role does religion play in the village of Brookland? How is Matty’s atheism received, and how does it affect his daughters’ attitude toward death and suffering? How is Ezra Fischer’s Judaism received? What distinctions are made between Protestants and Catholics?

4. Do Prue, Tem, and Pearl share any traits derived from their upbringing? How did they cope with the deaths of their parents?

5. Anyone familiar with Brooklyn Heights will recognize location names from the families described in the novel, including the Pierreponts, the Joralemons, the Remsens, and the Livingstons. How did the history presented in Brookland compare to your previous impressions of Brooklyn’s early European settlers? What images surprised you the most?

6. To varying degrees, the Winship daughters are faced with sexism and stereotypes. How did each of them respond to this in charting the course of her life? Would you have married Ben, knowing it meant technically relinquishing your father’s company to him?

7. Chapter nine, "The Dream," describes both Prue’s nightmare regarding Pearl and her dream of building the bridge. Are these two visions related? What does the bridge ultimately come to represent in Prue’s life?

8. In what ways did the novel’s depictions of slavery, particularly in the characters of Johanna and Abiah, differ from depictions of slavery in fiction set in the South? What did you discover about the abolition process in New York discussed in chapter eighteen?

9. Prudence, Temperance, and Recompense: Is there irony in these character names?

10. Was Pearl ever truly heard by her family or by Will Severn?

11. The novel’s epigraph, which includes Yosa Buson’s lines, "You are the slaves/of chrysanthemums!" captures many aspects of Prue’s life. To what is she enslaved? What is the source of her liberation?

12. Discuss the effect of gin as the commodity of choice to drive the novel’s storyline. How is Brookland enhanced by the fact that the Winships’ livelihood depends on alcohol consumption?

13. What impact did the hazards of their era—timber fires, infant mortality, epidemics, gruesome on-the-job accidents—have on the Winship daughters? Did they possess a deeper appreciation for life because of such hazards?

14. Prue would not have lived long enough to see John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883 after more than a decade of hazardous, multi-million-dollar construction. As in the novel, many Brooklynites opposed the bridge and sought to keep a cultural distance from Manhattan. What might Prue have thought of present-day Brooklyn and its role as a borough of New York City?

15. How would Ben’s presentation tactics have fared in the world of contemporary public works projects? Has the process for acquiring such funding changed very much over the past two centuries? What is the modern-day equivalent of Prue’s bridge? Can you think of an outrageous invention that has been widely wished for but never successfully built?

16. What do you imagine Pearl’s fate to be? What unresolved answers lurk in your family legacy, akin the way Recompense continues to hope she will find her aunt?

17. What similarities and differences exist between Brookland and Emily Barton’s debut novel, The Testament of Yves Gundron? What makes her approach to storytelling unique?

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