How to Read the Air (Paperback)
Riverhead Books, 9781594485398, 320pp.
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
October 2010 Indie Next List
— Cindy Dach, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ
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From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination.
Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story- real or invented-that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.
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Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
- Should Mariam and Yosef have stayed married to each other? Can a relationship survive a long separation?
- Who is more responsible for the failure of Jonas and Angela's marriage, Jonas or Angela?
- Was it wrong of Jonas to lie to the board member? Or was it more wrong of him to invent a story for his students? Do you agree or disagree with the school's handling of his fabrications?
- Do you think reenacting his parents' trip will help Jonas?
- Jonas is mostly estranged from his father before he dies, and mostly estranged from his mother before the end of this novel. Is there ever a reason to cut family members out of your life, or is it better to maintain close relationships whenever possible?
- Given all she had suffered at the hands of Yosef, was Mariam justified in causing the car accident in Missouri? Why or why not? Is there ever an instance in which violence should be answered with violence? How did the violent episodes in Jonas's parents' marriage shape him?
- Why did Jonas lie to Angela about his position at the academy?
- Why does Jonas get so swept away with rewriting the personal statements of the immigrants seeking asylum? In what other ways does he reimagine his world and the world around him? Does this tendency help him cope, or does it hurt him?
- Where do you think Jonas's trip takes him in the end? What kind of future do you see for him?