Book Club Study Guide for Our Lady of the Artichokes and Other Portuguese-American Stories
(1). The characters in Our Lady of the Artichokes often yearn for miracles. How many miracles—big, small, or in-between—occur throughout the book? How much of this is a simple inability on the part of the characters to recognize the beautiful or terrible nature of life as it unfolds…and when do uncanny, inexplicable incidents truly arrive?
(2). How much regarding miracles is humorous? How much is prayer disguised as impatience? Why does Tia Connie “invent a virgin” as a means of saving her apartment in the title story? Does this have anything to do with the mysterious appearance of Frank?
(3). It’s been suggested that so-called “magical realism” is nothing more than an acute awareness of the extraordinary things that are constantly observable in the ordinary world. When does magic enter into the stories, and when is it just “realism” looked at through the prism of expanded awareness?
(4). The various dividing pages suggest an evolution from a condition of being “fatherless” to a sense that one must grow into or assume a parental role. How much do the stories suggest a restless search for one’s place or sense of authority in the world, and how much does the quest involve God-as-Father or spiritual pursuits?
(5). Whether it’s Mary Smith in “Our Bones Here Are Waiting for Yours,” or Manny with his guilt over his crime in “The Man Who Was Made of Netting,” or the terrible incident under fascism of Cat’s father in “Lisbon Story,” many characters suffer with secrets. What liberates (or further imprisons) each of them?
(6). What are some of the particular Portuguese details—whether funny or shocking—that haunt or inform the characters? How many of them have to do with fear of the unknown? How does the Old World clash with the New World?
(7). Tónio’s past in “Lisbon Story” is suggested only briefly, during an aside when we’re told that “the war in Angola had left him an orphan adrift.” Given his own horrifying history and his haphazard search for a home, how does the central dramatic event involving Mateus save Tónio? What is it about this transcontinental drama that saves the distant father? And how does the unresolved outcome regarding the apartment serve the narrator Cat?
(8). What gap about mystery and yearning is bridged in “All Riptides Roar with Sand from Opposing Shores,” and why does it take so long to arrive?
(9). How much does the contemporary Californian landscape inform the imagery in the stories? Generally speaking, what images throughout the book add a note of color or affect the sensibility of the writing? Which are the most memorable?
(10). The epigraph involves the poet Fernando Pessoa’s lines: “Until the dawning of that day/You know will dawn.” What day is this referring to? Why does the voice ask permission to become the child, and to receive stories?