Spoiler alert! Please proceed with caution if you haven’t yet read the book. These questions are intended to spark interesting, though-provoking conversations, but they may give away some of the book’s twists and turns.
If you would like Abby to discuss The Garden of Dead Dreams with your book club via skype, Google+, or phone, email her at abbyquillen (at) gmail (dot) com.
1. One of the themes of The Garden of Dead Dreams is whether we can remake our lives. Etta, Vincent Buchanan, Sakura, and other characters are to varying degrees trying to rewrite their pasts, just as the Japanese did at the end of World War II. Can we remake our lives? Can we forget the past individually or as a culture? Should we?
2. The Buchanan Academy is isolated from the distractions of modern life — cell phones, the Internet, television. Would you sign up for that kind of isolation? Is isolation a better breeding ground for creativity and art?
3. Vincent Buchanan’s actions made him a hero to some and a traitor to others. Why did he do what he did? Was he a good person?
4. Do we care if our literary heroes are “blemished and raw, deranged and narcotized” (as Galen says of Vincent Buchanan) in their personal lives?
5. Who was your favorite character? Why?
6. Petra Atwell is the book’s truth teller. She says things as they are, regardless of others’ feelings. How important is truth? Should we aspire to be more truthful?
7. Does Etta change during the course of the novel? Does she make peace with her past? If so, how?
8. The Garden of Dead Dreams contains some literary allusions. Did you catch any?
9. What do you think of the evolution of Etta and Carl’s relationship?
10. Different characters had vastly different interpretations of one of Vincent Buchanan’s stories. How much can we know about an author’s intention if they didn’t directly state it? Is the author’s intention even important, or should a story be evaluated on its own merits? Is literary criticism valuable?
11. Why do we often interpret the past (and literature) so inaccurately? Could a “legendary” historical figure bury his past because of our tendency to create mythologies and worship heroes?
12. Etta is exploring whether she can be a “literary” writer. At one point, she describes genre literature (romance, mystery, thriller, etc.) as helping readers escape reality, while literary fiction helps them understand reality. Do you agree? What do you think makes a book “literary?” Are “literary” books better?
13. Robert North makes the case that poets have always and must continue to exist on the fringes of society. Do you agree?
14. Does the book have a happy ending?
If you are hosting or attending a book club discussion on The Garden of Dead Dreams, read a Q&A with the author and peek behind the scenes to learn more about the book.