QUESTIONS FOR BOOK GROUPS
If you are meeting as a group to discuss The Garden of the World, the following questions can give you ways to start the conversation. They may also lead you to ways of developing your ideas about the book and about the broader themes the book brings up. But they shouldn’t be seen as limiting discussion. Every reader is an individual, and will bring his or her own personal history and family background to the reading of the book.
- The author has stated that he wanted to depict an entire vineyard year in the novel, from bud break to winter pruning. What did you enjoy learning about winemaking from the book? Do you know of winemaking techniques described in the book that are done differently today?
- The vineyard, both from the title and from the way it is described throughout the book, is a special place. One reviewer called the setting “a fallen American Eden,” and in the first chapter, Paul Tourneau imagines himself a kind of Adam – “Tourneau wanted to imagine himself the first man, the man who had been called to the hillside to work in the garden of God.” In what ways is the setting Edenic, and in what ways is it fallen?
- There are several father-son stories depicted in The Garden of the World. In what ways does Paul Tourneau’s relationship with Gill contrast with his relationship with Louis? How would you describe the relationship that Miguel has with his son Francisco?
- Gill is never able to forgive his father for what he sees as his role in his mother’s death. At the same time, Paul Tourneau is never willing or able to admit he is at all at fault. Is there a way out of this conflict? How does Louis, Gill’s younger brother, attempt to resolve it? How does Sophia attempt to resolve it? Why do they fail?
- After the war, Gill is horribly scarred and chooses not to return to Beau Pays. After a number of dead end jobs, he attempts to set up a version of the vineyard at Ojo de la Montaña with Lupita. Why does he fail? Is his failure due to being betrayed, as he thinks, or is his failure of his own making?
- Even though she is from a small town, Nancy Finney dreams of a larger world. What are her aspirations for herself? What do her aspirations lead her to do? What impression do you have of her by the end of the book?
- Bill Finney, the newspaperman who also appeared in The Blossom Festival, is a witness to much of what goes on, though he does not play an active role. What perspective does he bring to the events of the book that others lack? What does he see about Paul, Pascale, Sophia, and Louis, that they might not see about themselves?
- Is Gill’s participation in the wine robbery an act of revenge? Does he feel that he is justified in stealing his father’s treasure? What did he hope to gain from this act that might be some recompense for his losses in life? How did the final outcome contrast with what he might have hoped for?
- After the robbery, the Pulido family is shown leaving the Santa Clara Valley for Milagro Park. Discuss the various ways Milagro Park is presented in the book. What does milagro mean in English? In what ways does Milagro Park take on a symbolic role as a place of refuge? How does Milagro Park contrast with New Chicago? How does Milagro Park contrast with the fallen Eden of the vineyard? The Pulidos stop to pick up another person in need on their way out of the valley. It’s left unclear as to whether it could be Gill, but in any event, what does their gesture signify about how they treat others? How does it contrast with the way the Tourneau family remains in conflict with itself?
- The novel ends with the vineyard at financial risk and Louis shouldering an increasing burden. He ends contemplating the commencement of The Blossom Festival, which the author wrote about in a previous novel. What does the festival symbolize? What does Louis think of the meaning of the festival?
- What do you think will happen to the various characters? Will Gill eventually find his way to Milagro Park? Will Louis continue to attempt to realize his father’s vision? Will the Pulido family be able to leave off migrant labor and give their children a chance at a different future?
Another novel by Lawrence Coates so magical, aching and complete that once begun I could not turn away.—Robert Olmstead
Lawrence Coates knows California’s Santa Clara Valley, its history and the history of its once-great wine industry, and it permeates every page of his new novel. In The Garden of the World he has created a complex and beautiful story grounded in the reality of the valley’s vinuous past and of the people who helped make this land once “The Valley of Heart’s Delight."—Charles Sullivan
Coates ... is part of the literary thrust to recapture and reimagine lost worlds, and we as readers are the better for it. [He] is a unique and significant presence.—W. Jack Hicks