From guest author Katherine Govier and the Amnesty International Book Club
Your thoughts on the novel
How did you enjoy the book? As the story weaves between time, perspective and place, who or what did you find most compelling and why?
Survival is insufficient
Why do you think the novel begins with a performance of King Lear? What do you think about the significance of Shakespeare, and King Lear in particular—the play, the character? Is it realistic that in a time of global collapse performing the language and poetry of The Bard, and revisiting this character in particular, would come to feel necessary, and if so, why?
The lead caravan for the Travelling Symphony carries this line of text: Because survival in insufficient. It is a quotation from Star Trek: Voyager, the television series. What do you think it means in the context of the book? In the context of Canada
If “survival is insufficient,” what do you feel makes life sufficient enough to live?
If you were going to give a performance in a postapocalyptic world, what would it be?
Holding onto the past
Kirsten and August break in to old houses that have been abandoned. Jackson says he doesn’t know how they can stand it. The answer to this is very moving: “We stand it because we were younger than you were when everything ended, Kirsten thought, but not young enough to remember nothing at all. Because there isn’t much time left, because all the roofs are collapsing now and soon none of the old buildings will be safe. Because we are always looking for the former world, before all the traces of the former world are gone.” (p.130) Again, it is a question of timing. What do they get out of searching abandoned buildings, aside from a few material goods they can use, like a flute mouthpiece?
The novel is full of references to star ships, airships, planes – and the Museum of Civilization is in an airport. Why are the characters so nostalgic for flight? Why are planes so important? Do they stand for something more than travel?
At times, Kirsten feels as if the previous world was a dream. She mistrusts her memories, and wonders whether things like light in the refrigerator were actually real; yet she keeps on flipping switches in homes and trying to connect to the past. Why does it matter that we remember our past?
What would you miss most in a collapsed world? The novel mentions cars, air conditioning, the safety of one’s home, being able to stay in one place. Can we even imagine a time when such things have disappeared? Do we need to imagine this? Does it tell us something about today?
Art and advocacy
The Symphony carries “Shakespeare, weapons and music.” We do not typically imagine art to be combative, and yet these travelers must defend their right to perform and inspire others. Why is the expression and sharing of art worth protecting? Is art in itself a weapon?
This month’s Amnesty action features artists who have, with their drawings, songs and more, defied government and/or societal pressure to remain subversive. Can you think of a moment where a song, performance, image or book inspired you – and perhaps even challenged you to take action?
Your own questions
What do you think of the novel? What questions did reading this story raise? What would you like to discuss? Visit us on Goodreads to share your reflections. Don’t have a Goodreads account? We’re on Facebook too!