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Cover for The Queen of Palmyra

The Queen of Palmyra

A Novel

Minrose Gwin


List Price: 15.99*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback, Large Print, Large Print (5/1/2010)

May 2010 Indie Next List

“WOW. What an incredible writer. Minrose Gwin uses words the way an artist uses paint, adding layers upon layers as she tells the story of young Florence Irene Forrest. Her family returns home to a small, segregated Alabama town in the 1960s, her father is holding secrets, her mother bakes cakes and is barely holding on, and she is a little girl holding on to her dream of a happy ending for her story. Florence spends her time listening, watching and waiting to be ready for whatever is headed her way. Her attention to the details in the people around her and the way she perceives herself as seen by others, leads to one heart wrenching phrase, I”
— Nona Camuel, CoffeeTree Books, Morehead, KY
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“The most powerful and also the most lyrical novel about race, racism, and denial in the American South since To Kill a Mockingbird.”
— Lee Smith, author of On Agate Hill

“Exquisitely beautiful… The novel grips the reader from its first page and relentlessly drives us to its conclusion.”
— William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues

An atmospheric debut novel about growing up in the changing South in 1960s Mississippi in the tradition of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. In the words of Jill McCorkle (Going Away Shoes), “Minrose Gwin is an extremely gifted writer and The Queen of Palmyra is a brilliant and compelling novel.”

Praise For The Queen of Palmyra: A Novel

...a brilliant and compelling novel... The beauty of the prose, the strength of voice and the sheer force of circumstance will hold the reader spellbound from beginning to end.”
— Jill McCorkle, author of THE GOING AWAY SHOES

The most powerful and also the most lyrical novel about race, racism, and denial in the American South since To Kill A Mockingbird....A story about knowing and not knowing, The Queen of Palmyra is finally a testament to the ultimate power of truth and knowledge, language and love.
— Lee Smith, author of ON AGATE HILL

Divert your reader and, and then “clobber” them, advised Flannery O’Connor. In this bold and brilliant book, Minrose Gwin diverts us with the affecting voice of a child and then clobbers us with the ugly truths of our collective past. I can almost hear O’Connor cheering.
— Sharon Oard Warner, author of Deep in the Heart

William Morrow Paperbacks, 9780061840326, 416pp.

Publication Date: April 27, 2010

About the Author

Minrose Gwin is the author of three novels: The Queen of Palmyra, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick and finalist for the John Gardner Fiction Book Award; Promise, finalist for the Willie Morris Award in Southern Literature; and The Accidentals.  In her memoir, Wishing for Snow, she writes about the convergence of poetry and psychosis in her mother’s life. Wearing another hat, she has written four books of literary and cultural criticism and history, most recently Remembering Medgar Evers: Writing the Long Civil Rights Movement, and coedited The Literature of the American South, a Norton anthology. Minrose began her career as a newspaper reporter. Since then, she has taught as a professor at universities across the country, most recently the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like the characters in Promise, she grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi.    


Conversation Starters from

1. Why do you think the novel is entitled The Queen of Palmyra, named after the legendary Zenobia, who took on the whole empire of Rome—and lost? Is the “queen” of the book one person or several? What does it mean to be a “queen”?

2. “True stories happen and then you tell them. But what you tell depends on what you see. And what you see depends on what you know,” Florence Forrest observes in the final pages of the novel. How is seeing dependent on knowing in The Queen of Palmyra? How does the novel pivot, as Lee Smith has observed, between seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing?

3.  “I need you to understand how ordinary it all was.” The intimate story of two families, one African American and one white, is played out against a backdrop of the racial tension and unrest that gripped the American South of the 1960s. How does the historical dimension of the story deepen and enhance our sense of everyday life under Jim Crow? How do we find the truth of history in the everyday, the ordinary?

4. The book abounds in stories with competing and contradictory messages: Uncle Wiggily, Br’er Rabbit, Bomba the Swamp Boy, Queen Zenobia. In what sense is the novel about the nature of stories and their multiple, often conflicting functions in human thought and action? What do these stories teach Florence Forrest? What do they tell us about the characters who tell them?

5. Florence’s story is interrupted briefly near the end of the book by Eva Greene, who narrates her own murder in excruciating detail. What is the effect of this interruption? What do we learn from Eva in the moment of her death?

6. How is teaching important to the story? What does it mean to be a teacher? What does Eva teach Florence? Who else in the novel is a teacher?

7. Martha Forrest, the cake lady of Millwood, abandons Florence to her father, not once but twice. Why doesn’t she come back for Florence? Does Florence ever forgive her mother?

8. Why do sentences and diagrams feature so prominently in the novel? What does Florence mean when she says that Eva gave her “the sentence”? Why is it a diagrammed sentence on a blackboard that finally enables Florence to forsake her “willed, necessary blindness” and ‘see’?

9. Why, at the end of the book, does Florence take “that sharp left,” choosing to return to her own story rather than allowing herself to be swept away by the hurricane as she had planned? What will her life be like now?