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Sacred Country

Sacred Country

  • reading group guide
"I have a secret to tell you, dear, and this is it: I am not Mary. That is a mistake. I am not a girl. I'm a boy." Mary's fight to become Martin, her claustrophobic small town, and her troubled family make up the core of this remarkable and intimate, emotional yet unsentimental novel. As daring as Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Sacred Country inspires us to reconsider the essence of gender, and proposes new insights in the unraveling of that timeless malady known as the human condition. As Mary's mother, Estelle, observes, "There are no whole truths, just as there is no heart of the onion. There are only the dreams of the individual mind."
Sweeping us through three decades, from the repressive English countryside of the fifties to the swinging London of the sixties to the rhinestone tackiness of seventies America, Rose Tremain unmasks the "sacred country" within us all.
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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671886097 | 
  • June 1995
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Read an Excerpt

On February 15th, 1952, at two o'clock in the afternoon, the nation fell silent for two minutes in honour of the dead king. It was the day of his burial.
Traffic halted. Telephones did not ring. Along the radio airwaves came only hushed white noise. In the street markets, the selling of nylons paused. In the Ritz, the serving of luncheon was temporarily suspended. The waiters stood to attention with napkins folded over their arms.
To some, caught on a stationary bus, at a loom gone suddenly still, or at a brass band rehearsal momentarily soundless, the silence was heavy with eternity.... see more

Reading Group Guide

1. After studying Arthurian legend in school, Mary swears to protect Lindsey, Pearl, and Estelle. Judging from her own history, what compels her to make this oath and what exactly does she hope to protect them from?
2. The lives of Walter Loomis and Mary Ward parallel at several points in the novel. Though they have different desires, are there underlying similarities to their dreams?
3. Livia, Mary's dead grandmother, is a constant presence throughout the book. Mary often revisits the story of her grandmother's glider accident. What do Livia and her story represent for Mary?
4. From a very young age, the Dictionary of Inventions fascinates Mary. What role does invention and reinvention play in Mary's life? What power does it give her?
5. Many events in Mary's youth, from the night of King George's death to the night she leaves her family's farm, have a major impact on her life. What is the significance of these epiphanies? Do these events have anything in common?
6. Throughout the course of the novel, rural England undergoes a gradual, modernizing transformation. What is this transformation and how is it embodied in Sonny and his family?
7. After Pearl visits Martin in London and reveals her secret, do you think Martin's resulting resentment toward Timmy is legitimate?
8. Sacred Country is told through the narratives of several different characters. How does this see more

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