Reading Group Guide
The Quilter's Homecoming By Jennifer Chiaverini
Reading Group Discussion Guide
1. How does Henry Nelson differ from the other suitors that Elizabeth Bergstrom entertains? How is his decision to purchase a ranch in California connected to his desire to marry Elizabeth? Why do both families feel apprehensive about the newlyweds' intention to move west?
2. What do the two quilts that her family makes in preparation for her wedding and journey to California represent to Elizabeth? Why is the Chimneys and Cornerstones pattern more precious to Elizabeth than the Double Wedding Ring pattern? Why does Elizabeth agree to trade the quilts to Mrs. Diegel, and what does her decision to do so reveal about her attitude toward sacrifice in her marriage?
3. "Each of those scraps held a special memory for Elizabeth. She would collect others...and stitch them together into a patchwork of memories, a record of their journey." How do the quilts Elizabeth makes and mends function as a record of the events of the past and present in The Quilter's Homecoming? How do the quilts Elizabeth discovers contain secrets and messages from one generation to the next?
4. Why might Henry and Elizabeth be "easy marks" for hustlers like Mae and Peter? Why does Henry refuse Peter's business proposal when he believes himself to be the owner of Triumph Ranch, but choose to give all of his meager savings to Mae when he and Elizabeth are practically destitute?
5. How does the story of Rosa's family and the hardships they experience connect to the story of Elizabeth and Henry Nelson's difficulties in the Arboles Valley? Why do you think the author decided to intersperse and overlap these families' stories in the novel? To what extent does such a narrative format resemble the process of quilting?
6. "We're ranchers, not movie stars." How does Elizabeth's brief encounter with the Hollywood producer, Grover Higgins, affect her? Why is Henry so opposed to her taking a screen test? How does marriage change Elizabeth's dreams for her future, and in what ways does marriage enable her to fulfill her dreams?
7. How would you characterize the Jorgensen family, and why do they agree to take on Elizabeth and Henry Nelson as workers? Why does Mrs. Jorgensen's treatment of Elizabeth infuriate Henry? How is the Nelsons' cabin on the Jorgensen farm important in Elizabeth's discoveries about Rosa and her family?
8. Why does John Barclay despise Lars Jorgensen, and to what extent do you think his hatred is justified? Why are others in the Arboles Valley uncomfortable around the Barclay children? Why does Elizabeth help Rosa in her efforts to escape her unhappy life with John Barclay, and what does her action reveal about Elizabeth's sense of justice?
9. Which character or characters in The Quilter's Homecoming did you most identify with and why? How did the description of quilts and quilting impact your appreciation of what these characters had to endure over the years? What do you think is the "homecoming" referred to in the title, and whose homecoming is it?
10. Why are Elizabeth and Henry initially suspicious of the offer of the Barclay Farm, and what ultimately wins them over and leads to their acceptance of the property? How have they "earned" the right to name it Triumph Ranch? Why is it significant that Elizabeth finds no trace of the quilts or photo album that Rosa cherished?
11. In The Quilter's Homecoming, the quilting that occurs is primarily done in solitude -- we get a glimpse of the Bergstrom women quilting, but for the most part, we see Elizabeth alone mending the quilts she discovers in the cabin on the Jorgensen farm. To what extent is quilting Elizabeth's way of feeling connected with her far-flung family?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. To view an online gallery of quilt patterns and quilts inspired by those featured in Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek novels, visit the author's website: http://www.elmcreek.net/ and click on "Gallery." Check Jennifer's Chiaverini's event schedule to find out when she's coming to read in your region and plan a trip with your book club.
2. Were you moved by the Double Wedding Ring and the Chimneys and Cornerstones patterns that Elizabeth's family quilts for her before she travels to California? During your next gathering, why not piece together a quilt that your book club can deliver to someone in need? Bring squares that are meaningful to you and that tell a story. Then, consider donating your quilt to a local charity or shelter.
3. Just how much do you know about quilting? Take a quilting quiz with your fellow book club members http://www.pbs.org/americaquilts/fun/index.html/ and see if you can answer such questions as "Where is 'Quilt City, USA'?" When you're done with the quiz, read more about quilting resources in the United States and online through PBS's website, dedicated to the art of quilting.
4. Did you know that quilts have been used as images on U.S. postal stamps? To read more about Gee's Bend, a formerly little-known community of quilters in rural Alabama that has become widely renowned for their craft (and had their art featured on postal stamps), visit: http://www.quiltsofgeesbend.com/quilts/.
5. Food is important to the characters in The Quilter's Homecoming, whether it is the meal of tortillas and tamales that Isabel brings to her daughter, Rosa, or the ripe apricots that tempt the locals in the Arboles Valley. Offer some of these foods at your book club meeting, or try a restaurant that has them on the menu.