Skip to main content
Cover for The Lake on Fire

The Lake on Fire

Rosellen Brown


List Price: 17.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (11/19/2018)
MP3 CD (11/20/2018)
Compact Disc (11/20/2018)


The Lake on Fire is an epic narrative that begins among 19th century Jewish immigrants on a failing Wisconsin farm. Dazzled by lore of the American dream, Chaya and her strange, brilliant, young brother Asher stow away to Chicago; what they discover there, however, is a Gilded Age as empty a fa ade as the beautiful Columbian Exposition luring thousands to Lake Michigan's shore. The pair scrapes together a meager living--Chaya in a cigar factory; Asher, roaming the city and stealing books and jewelry to share with the poor, until they find different paths of escape. An examination of family, love, and revolution, this profound tale resonates eerily with today's current events and tumultuous social landscape. The Lake on Fire is robust, gleaming, and grimy all at once, proving that celebrated author Rosellen Brown is back with a story as luminous as ever.

Sarabande Books, 9781946448231, 320pp.

Publication Date: October 16, 2018

About the Author

Rosellen Brown is the author of the novels Civil Wars, Half a Heart, Tender Mercies, Before and After, and six other books. Her stories have appeared frequently in O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories and Best Short Stories of the Century. She now teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and lives in Mr. Obama's neighborhood, overlooking Lake Michigan.

Conversation Starters from

1. What is the role of literature for the characters of The Lake on Fire, and what does the book envision as the role of literature in society? How does the book question the value of literature in times of inequality and social unrest, and how does the book affirm the value of literature?

2. How does loss shape Chaya’s and Asher’s experiences?

3. Discuss the role of religion in Chaya and Asher’s view of the world. How does it affect the ways in which the world views them?

4. In what ways does the book show the effects of capitalism on the body of workers? How are the bodies of men and women treated differently? How are bodies treated differently on the farm versus in the factory?

5. What does Ms. Gottlieb mean by “principles cost money”? Do you agree? Are principles a privilege? If this is true, does it invalidate principles? Does it excuse unprincipled acts? Who in the book compromises their principles and who refuses to? What effects do these compromises or non-compromises have on the people around them?

6. Chaya makes multiple attempts to return to places and people she has left. Is she successful? What would a successful return look like for her?

7. Consider the significance of the World’s Fair in the novel. How is it used as a setting to explore progress, inequality, and the relationship between the two?

8. How are fairy tales used to explore the themes of the novel? How are they subverted?