Bookclub questions

I’ve always felt that books were far more than a simple diversion. The best books teach us, move us forward, and help us understand ourselves and those around us. I hope CAIRNAERIE does the same.

To that end, I offer the following questions to help bookclubs, wherever you are, discuss CAIRNAERIEAnd I would love nothing better than for you to add your own questions.

  1. How did Geneva’s parents’ cloistering her make innocent of the cruelty in the world?
  2. In this, did they serve her well? Or was it a false security and why?
  3. If Geneva had been more exposed to “society” would she have allowed herself to fall in love with Zeph? Would her choice have been different had she had more understanding of the ramifications of her decisions? And is this kind of societal conditioning a good thing or a bad thing?
  4. How did Bertram Snow’s devotion to “duty” cause conflicts between Caroline and him, and later with Geneva’s marriage?
  5. Was Bertram’s determination to honor Ezekial Coker a matter of duty and obligation or did it rise from his own personal convictions?
  6. What might have happened to Bertram had Ezekial not rescued him?
  7. How did the “arrangement” satisfy the wishes of both Bertram and Caroline? Was there a good alternative?
  8. Education was once the stepping stone to life success, as it was for Bertram Snow. Have we lost that sense and promise as education has become available to all?
  9. In Chapter 44, Geneva says: “If anyone were trapped, I suppose it was Zeph.” What did she mean and do you think she trapped him or was he a willing party?
  10. Simmy was a servant at heart. It was her strength and her failing. Did she fail Geneva by not warning her of the consequences of marrying Zeph? Was Simmy acting out of fear or servanthood? Discuss whether knowing possible consequences deter bad decisions.
  11. Do you think Geneva ever truly considered the ramifications of her actions until they came back to affect her?
  12. Bertram was greatly influenced by Ezekial, and Zeph, by his father, Lightner. What characteristics did these two men share?
  13. How was Bertram shaped by the circumstances of his youth?
  14. Why did Zeph succumb to Tobias’ blackmail? Did he have any other alternatives?
  15. Why was Jacob Lassiten so distaining of “coloreds?” Do you think he knew he was an octoroon? Or like Benny, did he learn only when he was denied admission to law school?
  16. Vivvy was a character of conflicts. Was she as gruff as she seemed to appear?
  17. Why did Bertram refuse to disavow his granddaughter, as Caroline wanted him to do?
  18. What might have changed Caroline’s mind about the marriage enough to give the couple with their wedding rings?
  19. What does John Klare learn about himself when he becomes embroiled once again in a racial issue? Reticent at first to get involved, what changes his mind?
  20. Courage comes in many forms. What characters displayed courage and which were just bullheaded?
  21. Ezekial, Lightner and Zeph all rose above the contemporary plight of their race during their lifetimes. What gave them the wisdom and courage to do so? Were they all heroic characters?
  22. Should Bertram Snow have been the “pioneer” that his daughter had hoped and his son, Hayes, encouraged?
  23. Education was valued far more than it is today, a time when it is readily available. How has the attitude toward education changed? Was Bertram Snow ahead of his time in his attitude toward education?
  24. Clearly, there existed different camps along racial lines in the world of higher education? How did this conflict effect John? Has this changed, and if so, how?
  25. Describe the “status quo” that John references in this passage and why both communities lived by it. In Hyssop, though, he had noticed there was little open animosity. Instead, there was a comfortable acceptance of the status quo: Negroes were welcome to participate in society, but at their own places, separate and apart.” Was this a common iteration of racism in 1920s America? Was the “status quo” different, depending on geography?
  26. Geneva mused about “each generation” in the following passage. What does her observation reveal about her acceptance of her life? “…one generation waits for the next. They hold on tightly—for as long as they can—until the young generation grows strong. Only then do they depart. It is sad, but this is the order of things.”
  27. Base on her grandmother’s deepest desires, what is Joly’s full legacy?
  28. In matters of protecting children from “the world,” is there something to be learned from Geneva’s life?
  29. Was Geneva imprisoned, was she protected, or was she given what she wanted? Discuss the evolution of her attitude and her father’s.
  30. Twice Zeph tells Geneva, “Sometimes what’s right, isn’t what’s wise.” What does he mean by this, and how does this shape his life?
  31. Always determined to have her own way, what does Geneva’s long confinement teach her about life and about finding happiness?
  32. Discuss how decisions that one person makes can have a ripple effect through others’ lives?
  33. Discuss how Bertram, Caroline, Geneva and Zeph each change and what drives each transformation?
  34. Two characters had excellent qualities that caused problems. Who were they and what good traits caused them trouble?
  35. Bertram Snow’s motivation was always his faith, but it seemed to fail him in the crisis of Geneva’s marriage. Was his faith molded by circumstances or were circumstances molded by his faith and why?
  36. What parallels are there between Bertram Snow’s gift of redemption to Geneva and Geneva’s gift to Joly?
  37. Talk about the theme of forgiveness, especially posthumous forgiveness. How is it portrayed in three generations?
  38. Explain how Ezekial Coker’s rescue of Bertram influenced the young boy’s life?
  39. What do you think happened to Bertram Snow’s sisters? Would you want to know?
  40. Simmy is a heroic character, but she fails Geneva at a critical moment. What is that moment? And what if she had not? Would it have changed Geneva’s decision to marry Zeph?
  41. Lightner and Clarissa had a life philosophy that they passed on to Zeph and Simmy. What was it? And did it serve the children well?
  42. What Zeph’s allegiance to the Snow family misplaced? Should he have accepted Bertram Snow’s invitation for freedom and left Cairnaerie after the war? Was his decision to stay right or wise?
  43. Is John Klare a crusader? Considering his newest jeopardy (Lassiten), was his courage a surprise to himself?
  44. What do you think happens between John and Helen? And would you like to know the rest of their story?
  45. When Joly inherits Cairnaerie what barriers to her ownership might Anderson Goodwin have considered when he established the trust for her inheritance?
  46. What might happen when Joly takes possession of Cairnaerie; a young black woman owning such substantial property in a segregated society?