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KillersThe All Good Books group will discuss Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann at our next meeting on Thursday, November 15, 2018. As usual, we’ll meet at the Community of Christ Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS) at 7 PM.

The following discussion questions are drawn from the publisher’s site (https://bit.ly/2qzeRVZ):

  1. What do the contemporary media reports on the wealth and lifestyle of the Osage reflect about white perceptions of Native Americans (pp. 6–7; pp. 76–77)? In what way do they lay a foundation for the way the murders and mysterious deaths were treated by law enforcement?
  2. What was your first impression of William Hale (p. 17)? How does Grann bring to life his strengths and appeal, as well as the darker side of his nature? What qualities does he share with people who achieve power and influence today?
  3. How did you respond to the description of law enforcement in America during the 1920s (p. 19)? What elements most shocked or surprised you? What made the situation in Osage County particularly chaotic? What effect did this have on the investigations into the deaths of Anna Brown and Charles Whitehorn?
  4. What does Grann’s account of the relationship between the United States government and Native Americans contribute to your understanding of the country’s history (pp. 37–44)? How did government policies affect individuals like Mollie and her family? What does Grann capture in his description of Lizzie’s death: “Lizzie’s spirit had been claimed by Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior, and by Wah’Kon-Tah, the Great Mystery” (p. 36)?
  5. Discuss the circumstances that distinguished the Osage from other Native American tribes, including the actions taken by tribal leaders early in the century; the influx of white settlers and oil prospectors; the granting of headrights; and the guardianship system (pp. 78–80).
  6. What is the significance of the murder of Barney McBride, the oilman who went to Washington to seek help for the Osage (p. 68) and of W.W. Vaughan, the attorney who worked with private detectives investigating the murders (p. 93–4)?
  7. What does Grann’s portrait convey about J. Edgar Hoover (p. 107)? What traits stand out and what do they foretell about Hoover’s future as director of the FBI?
  8. In what ways does Tom White combine the qualities of the Old West and of the modern bureaucratic system Hoover is trying to create? How does this influence the steps he takes in investigating the murders? How do the various views of White, including the stories of his childhood and his work as a Texas Ranger (pp. 137–153), shape your impressions of him? Would you define him as the hero of the book?
  9. How were manufactured evidence, suborned testimony, and false confessions used to divert the FBI investigation? What role did independently hired private eyes and informants play in the search for the truth?
  10. The crimes in Osage County involved many levels of deception and betrayal. In addition to the actual conspirators, who else either directly profited from the crimes or was silently complicit in them? In what ways did accepted mores encourage the corruption that plagued the investigation?
  11. What role did new methods of criminal investigation play in uncovering the guilty parties? In addition to introducing up-to-date forensic science, how did Hoover use the case to transform the Bureau of Investigation and simultaneously enhance his own image?
  12. During Hale’s trial, a member of the Osage tribe said, “It is a question in my mind whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals” (p. 215). Why does this observation resonate beyond the immediate circumstances?
  13. Perhaps the most chilling aspect of Killers of the Flower Moon is the marital and familial connections between murderers and their victims. What explains Ernest Burkhart’s actions even as he remained married to and had children with Mollie? How does Grann bring to life the particular horror of crimes committed within a family and a close-knit community?
  14. What does the evidence Grann uncovered when he visited Osage County in 2012 reveal about the lasting legacy of the “Reign of Terror”?
  15. Killers of the Flower Moon combines the fast pace of a true-life murder mystery with the scope and detail of a narrative history. How does Grann integrate these different aspects of the book?
  16. We are familiar with many American crimes and criminals during the early twentieth century from movies, books, and television shows. Why do you think the story of the Osage murders hasn’t received similar attention?
  17. Are there recent examples of racial prejudice and injustice that parallel those described in Killers of the Flower Moon? What has changed about the approach taken by law enforcement? About the attitudes expressed by the white community in the face of racial or religious discrimination? In what ways have things remained the same?

A cast of characters from the book follows. This list is also drawn from the publisher’s website.

Cast of Characters

The Family
Mollie Burkhart, a wealthy Osage woman whose family was targeted

Anna Brown, Mollie’s oldest sister, a divorcee who spent a lot of time in the reservation’s rowdy boomtowns

Lizzie, Mollie’s mother, deeply attached to Osage traditions even as the world around her changed; she suffered a slow, inexplicable death

Rita, Mollie’s sister, and her husband, Bill Smith

Ernest Burkhart, Mollie’s white husband, the father of her three children, and her official financial guardian

Bryan Burkhart, Ernest’s younger brother

William Hale, Ernest’s uncle, a self-made man of great wealth and staggering power; revered by many people as “King of the Osage Hills”

Margie Burkhart, the granddaughter of Mollie and Ernest Burkhart; she shared her father’s memories of the “Reign of Terror” with Grann as well as stories about Mollie’s and Ernest’s lives in later years

The Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover, the twenty-nine-year-old newly appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation; he saw the Osage cases as a way to redeem the bureau’s bad reputation and advance his own career

Tom White, an old-style frontier lawman and former Texas Ranger who was put in charge of the investigation

John Wren, recruited by White, he was then one of the few American Indians (perhaps the only one) in the bureau

Other Characters
Barney McBride, a white oilman who sought help for the Osage

W.W. Vaughan, a lawyer who worked closely with private detectives trying to solve the Osage cases

James and David Shoun, local doctors (and brothers)

Scott Mathis, owner of the Big Hill Trading Company and a close friend of both Mollie Burkhart and William Hale; he managed Lizzie’s and Anna’s financial affairs and administered Anna’s estate

James Bighart, the legendary chief of the Osage who negotiated the prescient treaty with the government to retain mineral rights for the tribe

George Bighart, James’s nephew who gave information to W.W. Vaughan

Henry Roan, briefly married to Mollie when they were young; he borrowed heavily from William Hale and made Hale the beneficiary of his insurance policy

Additional discussion questions are available from the PBS NewsHour/New York Times book club (https://nyti.ms/2zBPMxA) as listed below.

  1. Before starting “Killers of the Flower Moon,” had you ever heard of the Osage murders? If so, how did you learn about them, and what did you know? Do you think this history should be taught in schools?
  2. Grann begins the book with a line describing the flowers spread over the Oklahoma hills where the Osage Indian nation resided — and how those flowers break and die in May. How does this line set the tone for, and introduce the subject of, the rest of the book?
  3. The first character we meet is Mollie Burkhart, whose family becomes a main target of the Osage murders. How does Grann signal to us early on what the murderer may be after?
  4. Grann describes the discovery of oil on Osage land as a “cursed blessing.” How do you think it’s a blessing, and how is it a curse?
  5. How trustworthy do you find the different authorities that appear throughout the book to investigate the murders? Authorities such as William Hale, who Grann initially describes as a “powerful local advocate for law and order,” as well as the frontier lawmen, the brothers who conduct autopsies of the bodies, the local sheriff and, later, the F.B.I.?
  6. As you reach the halfway point of the book, who do you believe is responsible for the killings? Why?
  7. Osage “headrights” — or the money received by members of the tribe, or by white guardians, from mineral royalties — soon become central to the book. Grann writes: “Although some white guardians and administrators tried to act in the best interests of the tribe, countless others used the system to swindle the very people they were ostensibly protecting.” Which sectors of society abused these guardianships? How was this able to happen?
  8. Why do you think the F.B.I. pursued the case of the Osage murders? What did you learn about the birth of the agency?
  9. At this point in your reading, what do you think these murders say about America’s history with Native American people?
  10. As the F.B.I. solved the case, what was the mythology of the bureau that J. Edgar Hoover was trying to create? What parts of the agency’s investigation of the Osage Murders were left out of the story?
  11. Grann begins the third section of the book with the words: “So much is gone now,” including oil fields and boomtowns. But he also writes that the Osage nation has recovered in the decades since the murders, and today is a vibrant nation that’s 20,000 people strong. What do you think Grann wants us to take away from this?
  12. Grann ends the book with a quote from the Bible about Cain and Abel: “The blood cries out from the ground.” Why do you think he chose to close the book this way?
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All-Girl Filling Stations Last ReunionThe October meeting of the All Good Books discussion group will occur on Thursday, October 18, 2018, at 7 PM. The group will meet in the Church Library and discuss ” The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion” by Fannie Flagg. Everyone is invited!

Thanks to the Mount Prospect Public Library for the following discussion questions!

  1. How did you like the book? What about it left a lasting impression on you?
  2. What, if any, were your favorite moments? How about least favorite moments?
  3. After learning she was adopted Sookie said, “I’m an entirely different person than I was, even a few minutes ago. Everything has changed.” Sookie goes from identifying as a Southern Methodist English person to now identifying as Polish and Catholic. Why do people generally try to identify themselves in such short descriptors?
  4. How has how we identify ourselves changed or not changed over the years?
  5. Why was Lenore so obsessed with what side of the family Sookie’s traits came from?
  6. What are Sookie’s similarities to Lenore? Differences?
  7. Is Lenore a realistic character?
  8. Why didn’t Sookie tell Lenore she was adopted?
  9. If you were Sookie, would you have told Lenore you knew you were adopted? Why or why not?
  10. If Sookie never learned about her adoption, would her vision of Lenore ever change?
  11. How did Sookie’s relationship with her kids differ from Sookie’s relationship with her mom?
  12. A lot of this book focuses on how Sookie feels about her mother. How did Sookie feel about her father? How do you feel about her father?
  13. How were the men treated in this book? (Buck, Earle, Sookie’s father)
  14. We don’t really see much of Winks. What was his role in the book? Did you like the letters?
  15. Were you surprised to learn about the WASPs? Why are they not more known in history?
  16. How did the WASP’s storyline impact your reading of Sookie’s storyline?
  17. How did Sookie view Lenore differently by the end of the book?
  18. What, if any, are the similarities between Lenore and Fritzi?
  19. What do you think about the relationship between the psychiatrist and Sookie?
  20. What makes this book Southern?
  21. A lot of people said they didn’t like this book because they disliked the characters. Can you like a book and not like the characters? In what situations is that the case or not the case? Where do you draw the line for yourself?
  22. Were you mad that Fritzi lied about Sookie’s mother’s death? Why did she lie?
  23. Did reading The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion leave you changed in any fashion?
  24. If you had to describe this book in just one word, what would it be?

Questions copyright 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Between SistersThe September meeting of the All Good Books discussion group will occur this Thursday, September 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM (the location has changed to Snider’s home due to resurfacing the church parking lot. Contact Jonathan Bacon or John Snider if you need directions). The group will meet and discuss “Between Sisters” by Kristin Hannah. This is the third Kristin Hannah book the group has discussed (“The Nightingale” and “Magic Hour”).

Potential discussion questions (provided by the publisher) are available online at https://kristinhannah.com/books/between-sisters/book-clubs/ and listed below. Keep up to date by following the book club’s blog/website here at allbooksclub.wordpress.com.

We hope you can join us this Thursday.

  1. In the opening scene of the novel, Meghann Dontess is talking to her therapist, but clearly Meghann has little or no interest in really addressing the pain in her past.  Why does she see a psychiatrist?  What does it say about her character that she spends time and money in pursuit of emotional well being, but refuses to actually answer the questions posed by Dr. Bloom?
  2. Meghann and Claire obviously grew up in a very dysfunctional home environment.  Each has in large part fashioned a life based on the lessons learned from their inattentive/unloving mother.  How are the sisters alike in their choices?  How are they different?
  3. Meghann often uses sex to dull the pain of her loneliness.  But sex with strangers generally leaves her feeling more alienated and dissatisfied with her life.  Why is she so afraid of intimacy?  Why does she really have these random encounters with men?
  4. In many ways, Between Sisters is a novel about the disappointments that come with love.   As a hotshot divorce attorney, Meghann is particularly entwined with the daily aftermath of a love gone bad.  She believes she is protecting her heart by steering clear of love, but is she?  Or is she more damaged by her inability to love at all?  In one scene, a client finally says to her, “What happened to you?”   Meghann answers that it requires emotional armor of a sort to do her job.  Is that the truth, though?  How is that question—what happened to you—the centerpiece of the novel?  The question that each character must ultimately face and answer.
  5. Claire is obviously scarred by her mother’s neglect and abandonment.  Why is Claire more able to rebound from these wounds?  Does she blame Meghann for leaving her in the first place or for never really coming back?  Did Meghann make the right decision all those years ago?  Would you have done the same thing in that situation?
  6. Joe and Meghann both claim to be unable to truly feel their own emotions.  Is that true?  Or are they both too able to feel loss?  How are they alike in the way they handle pain?
  7. Meghann is a deeply flawed and wounded character.  Would she agree with this assessment?  If not, why not?  And if her flaws are a product of an unhappy childhood, why is Claire so different?  How much do The bluesers contribute to Claire’s happiness with her own life?  Discuss the pivotal role of female friendship in our lives.  Do you think it becomes even more important as we get older?
  8. At the beginning of the novel, Meghann may be unhappy and aware of that unhappiness, but she is a force to be reckoned with in the legal world.  How does her career as a divorce attorney play into her world view and sustain her fear of intimacy?  It’s clear that as she begins to “break apart,” her ability to practice family law is one of the first things to go.  Why is that?
  9. What is your opinion of Meghann?  She is certainly judgmental and hard headed and critical of people and their emotions.  How much of her cynicism is real?  How much of it is a defense mechanism?  Why is she so afraid of her own emotions?  Do you know anyone like her?
  10. How much of the sisters’  personalities were shaped by their shared and separate past?  Who would Meghann have become if Sam had taken her in and made her a part of his family?  Did she give Sam a chance or was she looking for an excuse to leave?
  11. What drew you to each character?  With which character did you sympathize?  Did your opinions change over the course of the story?
  12. The medical crisis is ultimately the catalyst for change in the novel.   As is often true, terrible times can bring out both the best and the worst in people.  In many ways it can be said that Meghann became her best self during the tragedy with her sister and ultimately even helped to save Claire.  But how did the crisis—and Claire—save Meghann?
  13. Claire’s battle with cancer brings the sisters opposing personalities into sharp focus.  Each must grapple with faith and hope and the possible loss of both.  How does this struggle change each character?  How does the idea of death bring Meghann and Claire closer together?  How does it push them apart?
  14. In Between Sisters there is a deeply symbiotic relationship between the characters and the place in which they live.  Each sister is defined to a great extent by where she lives.  Meghann learns to adapt to, and even love, Claire’s hometown.  Could Claire ever be as happy in Meghann’s world?
  15. How will Claire’s life change with Bobby’s success?
  16. After a lifetime of responsible, rational decisions, Claire falls in love with Bobby in one evening.  Or does she?  Does she really believe in love at first sight?  Do you?
  17. Was Claire right not to tell Bobby about her illness?  Did you understand her decision?  About this choice to protect her husband, Claire says to her father, “You can sacrifice for them.  Isn’t that what love is?”  What does this scene tell you about Claire’s idea of love?
  18. What is Mama really like?  When she sees Claire in the hospital, Mama’s accent disappears and she won’t let Meghann touch her.  What do these little choices reveal about Mama?  Do you believe she loved her daughters?  Was she capable of love?  And how did their mother’s view of love shape the girls sense of worth?
  19. Joe is carrying a heavy burden and has been for several years.  The death of his wife—and his part in it—has eroded a part of his soul.  Do you think Claire is right when she says, “She shouldn’t have asked it of you?” If Diana truly loved Joe, would she have asked such a thing of him, knowing the cost?  And should Joe have done it?  Do you consider euthanasia an act of mercy or murder?
  20. Were you surprised by the ending of the novel?  Was it organic to the story, or did you feel it was too easy?  What would have happened to Meghann and Joe and Ali if Claire had been less fortunate?

 

kell_9781101883075_are_all_r1.inddThe All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 7 PM in the Community of Christ Church Library to discuss Lilac Girls: A Novel by Martha Hall Kelly (Random House Publishing Group). The church is located at 7842 Mission Road in Prairie Village, Kansas.

The following 15 discussion questions are suggested by the publisher, plus we’ve added a few more at the end of the list.

  1. In what ways do you think the alternating points of view help to enrich the narrative? Was there ever a time you when you wished there was only one narrator? Why or why not?
  2. The primary settings of this novel are starkly different—Caroline’s glamorous New York world of benefits and cultural events, and the bleak reality of life in a concentration camp. In what ways did the contrast between these two settings affect your reading experience?
  3. Caroline’s relationship with Paul is complicated, taboo even. Was there ever a time when you didn’t agree with a choice Caroline makes with regards to Paul? When and why?
  4. As Caroline becomes more and more invested in her work with the French Families Fund, and eventually with the Rabbits, did you feel that she changes in any way? If so, how were those changes apparent through her interactions with others?
  5. Throughout their time in Ravensbrück, Kasia and the other prisoners find subtle, and not so subtle, ways to demonstrate their resistance. Discuss the variety of actions they take. Which of them did you find to be most powerful? Most moving? Most effective?
  6. When Kasia learns that they were hunting Rabbits, she thinks, “Just don’t feel anything. If you are to live, you cannot feel.” Do you agree with this statement? What do you think it says about the nature of survival? Is it relevant to any other characters in the book, not just the prisoners?
  7. Did you find Herta to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
  8. When Vilmer Hartman comes to visit Ravensbrück, he shows concern for Herta’s mental state. What do you think this reveals about her character? Had you previously thought about any of the points he makes?
  9. Though the Nazis made sure the German people only got their news from one media point of view, Herta’s father continues to read as many newspapers as he can. How does this relate to media usage today?
  10. Did you feel that Halina’s ring is an important symbol in the book? How does Herta feel about the ring? Why does she keep it?
  11. Throughout the novel, in and out of Ravensbrück, the characters experience harrowing, difficult situations. Is there one that you found more memorable than the others? Why do you think the author chose to include it?
  12. If you had to come up with a single message or lesson to represent each of the main characters’ experiences—Caroline’s, Kasia’s, and Herta’s—what would it be and why?
  13. Many of the themes explored in Lilac Girls—human rights, political resistance, survival—are a direct result of the historical World War II setting. How are those themes relevant to current events today?
  14. Lilac Girls also touches on a number of interpersonal themes, including female friendship, mother-daughter relationships, love, infidelity, mental health, and more. How do these themes impact the characters’ lives?
  15. What do you think the author hoped her readers would take away from this reading experience?
  16. What event in the novel affected you the most? Why?
  17. Parts of the novel are very difficult to read because of the events that demonstrate the inhumanity and abusiveness of the Nazis. Why did you keep reading?
  18. How do Kasia and Zuzanna (the sisters) change from the beginning of the novel to the end? Do their personalities and their relationships to each other change?
  19. There are several sayings interspersed throughout the novel. Some are quotes and others are aphorisms. Did you underline or remember any specific ones?
  20. An Automat is mentioned several times in the novel. What is it? Did you have to look it up? Are there parallels between the Automat and today’s restaurants?
  21. Why do you think the novel is called “Lilac Girls?”

kell_9781101883075_are_all_r1.inddThe All Good Books discussion group will meet on Thursday, August 16, 2018 at 7 PM to discuss “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly. Discussion questions will be posted soon.

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.”

The book club meets at the Mission Road Congregation of the Community of Christ, 7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS. Come and join the discussion.

Mrs_SaintThe All Good Books group will meet at 7 PM on Thursday, July 19, 2018, to discuss “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer. Discussion questions are available below. This date is a reschedule of a previously cancelled book club meeting date.

Please join us at the Mission Road Community of Christ congregation located at 7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, Kansas. We’ll meet in the Church Library.

Discussion Questions for “Mrs. Saint and the Defectives” by Julie Lawson Timmer

  1. Some of the main characters in the novel include Markie, Kyle, Jesse, Clayton, Lydia and Mrs. Saint. What is the relationship between those five characters and how would you describe them?
  2. On page 36, Markie ponders how her teenage son “even on his grumpiest days” can “scrounge up some cheer” (such as a smile) for his grandparents and/or Mrs. Saint. Why are teenagers like that?
  3. Markie is convinced (on page 44) that “She had caused it all by doing one terrible thing: she had looked the other way.” Explain. Do you agree?
  4. On page 52, Markie observes “Romance and passion and long talks into the night can carry the day when there are no bills to pay, no jobs to hold down, no middle-of-the-night feedings, no debates about attachment parenting and discipline techniques.” Do you think this is why many marriages flounder? What makes the difference between a marriage that succeeds and one that breaks or just endures?
  5. As Markie and Kyle settle in their new bungalow, they meet an entourage of neighbors. About one of them Mrs. Saint says “She is a faith healer, Ronda. Or so it is what she says. Which I do not know about this, honestly. Magic and special powers for things, I am not so sure. She likes to send luck to people by making totems such as this. Of course, no one of us can say that when the good thing happens, this was because of the totem rather than a person’s own hard work and the fate of the world. And when the good thing does not happen, well, she of course cannot explain.” What are your personal views about fate, magic, chance, “asking the universe (God) for what you need” (that is, answered and unanswered prayers) and whether “What will be, will be?”
  6. On page 89, Mrs. Saint refers to the people she’s helping (Frederic, Bruce, Lola, Ronda, Patty) as defectives. Why does she use that term? What does she mean? How does Markie respond?
  7. When Mrs. Saint asks Markie, “What is your way of helping people?” How did she respond? How would you respond?
  8. On page 119, Markie considers her aloneness and offers this reflction: “The thing about setting your life up so you could be completely alone was that you ended up completely alone.” Why do we sometimes seek “something” and then regret getting it?
  9. Who is Gregory? What do you think of his relationship with Markie?
  10. On page 182, Markie’s manager refers to his staff as “my direct and dotted-line reports.” What do you think of his use of this terminology?
  11. Her manager also invited Markie to “Share a meal.” He explained, “We all bring our own lunches, and I have everyone walk around the room, find someone they don’t know very well, and broker a trade. You know, my pickle for your pudding cup, half my bologna for half your turkey and Swiss. Like back in grade school! Great intermingling exercise! Really lets you get to know your coworkers more intimately.” What’s your reaction to this “exercise” and his management style?
  12. What surprises Markie about Patty when she finally gets to know her (page 249)?
  13. Who said “It’s not how we got here…Or even that we are here. It’s where we go from here.” What does that comment mean to you?
  14. Who is more stubborn, Mrs. Saint or Markie? Defend your position.
  15. Who is Simone and what is her relationship to Angeline (Mrs. Saint)? What is their story?
  16. On page 306, Simone states, “I should not have come here to grant my sister forgiveness. I should have come here to ask for hers. I have judged her all these years for refusing to lead a life that is true to who she is, to what our family was. For refusing to honor them. And all this time, she has been honoring them far better than I.” What does she mean? Why is it often so hard to forgive? Why is it so often easy to criticize others for failing to do what we fail to do?

Mrs.Lincolns.DressmakerThe All Good Books group will meet this Thursday, June 21, 2018 to discuss  Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. We’ll meet at the Community of Christ Mission Road Congregation (7842 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS) in the Church Library.

The following are some suggested discussion questions:

  1. When you began reading the novel did you think that Elizabeth Keckley was a fictional character used by the author to talk about Civil War events and the Lincoln’s life in the White House? Or did you think that she was and historical figure? Did your opinion changed as you read the novel?
  2. From the novel, what surprised you most about Mrs. Lincoln? About President Lincoln? About the Lincoln family? And about Elizabeth Keckley?
  3. What are your thoughts on Elizabeth’s publication of her memoir, Behind the Scenes? Do you believe she have the right to publish about her years as a dressmaker, friend and confidante to Mrs. Lincoln? Was it a breach of confidentiality and privacy that her employers should have expected of her?
  4. Why do you think Elizabeth published her memoirs? Would you have published a similar memoir if you had served in the White House as a friend and confidant of the President or the First Lady?
  5. How would you describe Mrs. Lincoln as a wife, a mother, and a friend? Could you have served as a friend and confidant of Mrs. Lincoln like Elizabeth? How would you describe Elizabeth’s service and response to Mrs. Lincoln’s requests?
  6. What is your opinion of the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and the Washington elite? Was she mistreated, or should she have expected the treatment she received? Explain.
  7. Would you recommend the novel to other readers? Why or why not?

The following are additional questions suggested by the publisher:

  1. What are Elizabeth Keckley’s most admirable qualities? What makes her such an appealing figure?
  2. Lincoln and Elizabeth both suffer terrible tragedies. Elizabeth was born into slavery, raped by her white master, and betrayed by her husband. She lost her only son in the war and was the victim of a scandal that damaged her reputation and left her in poverty. Mrs. Lincoln lost three of her four sons, as well as her husband, and was also the victim of devastating scandals and financial distress. How do they respond differently to the trials that life throws at them?
  3. What picture of President Lincoln emerges in the novel? In what ways does the novel deepen our understanding of Lincoln, both as a political leader and as a husband, father and friend?
  4. Elizabeth likes to think “that she too had played some small part in helping President Lincoln know the desires and worries of colored people better. She hoped she had used, and would always use, her acquaintance with the president and her time in the White House for the good of her race” [p. 192]. In what ways — direct and indirect — did Elizabeth helped the cause of people of color during her time in the White House? How might her personal example of dignity, compassion, and integrity have helped her cause? What actions does she undertake on behalf of her race?
  5. Why is the press so eager to vilify Mrs. Lincoln? Are any of their criticisms deserved?
  6. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Lincoln tells Elizabeth, “You are the only good, kind friend I have anymore, and I don’t know how I shall get along without you” [p. 259]. Why does Mrs. Lincoln come to rely so heavily on Elizabeth? In what ways is Elizabeth a loyal and generous friend to Mrs. Lincoln? What does she offer Mrs. Lincoln beyond dressmaking?
  7. Late in her life, Elizabeth tells the reporter, Mr. Fry, “When I am most in distress, I think of what I often heard Mr. Lincoln say to his wife: ’Don’t worry, Mother, because all things will come out right. God rules our destinies” [p. 349]. Does the novel itself seem to confirm Mr. Lincoln’s belief in divine providence? Does Lincoln’s death seem fated?
  8. What are some of the novel’s most moving scenes? How is Chiaverini able to bring the era, as well as the Lincoln family, so vividly to life?
  9. What are Elizabeth’s intentions in writing her memoir? In what ways does the editor of Carleton & Co., Mr. Redpath, take advantage of her?
  10. One reviewer of Elizabeth’s memoir, Behind the Scenes, writes that “The Line must be drawn somewhere, and we protest that it had better be traced before all the servant girls are educated up to the point of writing up the private history of the families in which they may be engaged” [p. 321]. Why do the critics respond with such hostility — and inaccuracy — to her book? Why would they feel threatened by it?
  11. How does Lincoln’s Dressmaker complement and add to the portrait of President Lincoln in the recent, Oscar–winning film Lincoln?
  12. Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Lincoln’s negative example that “the only way to redeem oneself from scandal was to live an exemplary life every day thereafter” [p. 325]. In what ways is her life, not just after the scandal but her entire life, exemplary?
  13. Reflecting on her teaching at Wilberforce University, Elizabeth feels that “Her greatest legacy could not be measured in garments or in words but in the wisdom she had imparted, in the lives made better because she had touched them” [p. 339]. In what ways does Lincoln’s Dressmaker also strengthen Elizabeth’s legacy? How much did you know about her before reading the novel?