Book Club Questions

Book Club Discussion Questions for
Song of the Orange Moons by Lori Ann Stephens
Written by Alane Hall
© 2010

1. What do you think is the significance of the book’s title Song of the Orange Moons? What are the implications of the symbolism of the moon in connection with a story about women? Why does the author choose to end the novel with a scene in the orange tree?

2. Religion and faith are central themes in the novel: the first reference in the story to religion, the contrast the novel creates between faith and paganism, and the contrast between Christianity and Judaism. How does religion create conflict in the story? (Between Rebecka’s mother and Rebecka’s grandmother, between Rebecka’s mother and father, between Helen’s mother and Helen’s aunts, between Helen’s mother and Grandpa Sheldon, between Helen and her family, between Irina, Emil and their neighboring Jewish community?) And what is the implication of Adelle’s comment, “I had enough of people who thought they were the ring on God’s finger”?

3. Superstition is a common element in the novel. How are superstitions contrasted with miracles in the novel? How does the widow’s explanation dispel the power of superstitions, “But wishes are just that, and nothing else”?

4. How does the author portray marriage in the novel? What are the differences and similarities in the book’s married couples? Which couple(s) are the most lovingly portrayed? Why are the most loving marriages the two oldest? What does Adelle mean when she says, “I’d gotten attached to a boy, and when a girl does that, she starts depending on him for things he can’t give. And worse, when she’s a grown woman, she gets married, and her whole life is attached to him. And when he leaves, you’re empty”?

5. From the early beginnings of the story, food is a symbol of love: “Mother made bandeja paiza and patacones and used the best dishes in the house.” Rebecka’s mother cooks a special meal for baby Paul’s birthday; later, the widow bakes for Rebecka and Helen as a sign of her affection; and finally, Irina cooks for Helen from her Romanian cookbooks. Discuss how food metaphorically and literally feeds the characters, and why food is symbolic in a story about faith?

6. The first chapter opens with an epigram: “When I was four, I found God under our organ.” Rebecka describes the songs of the angels who sing to her when the player organ plays. Later, Rebecka’s mother sings to Rebecka on the bus ride home from the witch doctor’s, the widow Adelle sings to the two girls, and Elvis sings “In the Ghetto” at Grandpa Sheldon’s funeral. Discuss the metaphor of music and song in the novel.

7. How does Rebecka’s mother’s grief over the death of baby Paul complicate Rebecka’s guilt about her sibling rivalry with her brother? Discuss the significance of the passage where Rebecka fantasizes about her mother recovering from her grief: “Yes, we are alone now. And you are worth cleaning a spoon, putting my feet on the cold floor, worth opening my eyes in the morning and living the rest of today.”

8. The novel portrays many father-daughter relationships. What comment is the novel making about the fathers?

9. The Jewish characters exhibit conflicting personal identities with their faith. Helen’s mother only keeps Kosher when her sisters come to visit, and against her sisters’ objections, she fulfills Grandpa Sheldon’s wishes for a non-Jewish funeral service, yet it is “vital” for her “to be perceived by her sisters as a moderately normal Jewish wife”, and, at the same time, to the neighbors as “average, normal people in spite of our Jewish heritage.” Yet, Emil openly disparages being “Jewish,” as he calls it, which is “to live without hope.” What are the causes and implications of these conflicted religious viewpoints? What does Helen learn to embrace in her own discovery of her identity and faith?

10.  Adelle and Helen’s stories frame the middle narrative. What is similar about Adelle’s story of her childhood at the home to the story of Helen’s exile to Massachusetts? How is Adelle and the two girls’ conversation about parents “who were done with them” a personal story for each character?

11. How does the novel describe the main characters’ craving for human touch? What do these longings signify for Adelle, for Rebecka, and for Helen? What about Rebbetzin Weiss’s hug convinces Helen that “it takes the smallest distances to move through the universe and that one touch can mean nothing or everything”?

12. How do you feel about Rebecka’s relationship with Jonathan? Why does she make the choices she does concerning him?

13. Daydreams and fantasies occur frequently in the novel. What literary purpose do they serve? How does the author convey the interior personalities of the main characters through the conversations they imagine they are having, or the dreams they recount?

14. Helen’s sibling rivalry with her younger brother is similar to, yet different from Rebecka’s rivalry with baby Paul. What is the impact of their feelings of displacement by a younger male sibling on their relationships with their fathers, on their feeling of belonging, or on their identity within the family? How does this rivalry manifest itself in their behavior outside the family?

15.  At the novel’s end, after apologizing for losing touch with Rebecka during Helen’s time in Massachusetts, Helen promises to come back and help Rebecka with the baby. Will she keep her promise? Will Rebecka stay true to her vow to prevent her baby from growing up with Rebecka’s mother’s fear?

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