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The Scent of Pine

The Scent of Pine

A Novel

  • reading group guide
“A compelling tale of cultural displacement and yearning” (The Boston Globe), from award-winning author Lara Vapnyar: a “sly and seductive” (The New York Times Book Review) new novel about sexual awakening and the relentless search for love.

Though only thirty-eight, Lena finds herself in the grips of a midlife crisis. She feels lost in her adoptive country, her career is at a dead end, and her marriage has spiraled into apathy and distrust—it seems impossible she will ever find happiness again. But then she strikes up a precarious friendship with Ben, a failed artist turned reluctant academic, who is just as lost as she is.

They soon surprise themselves by embarking on an impulsive weekend adventure, uncharacteristically leaving their responsibilities behind. On the way to Ben’s remote cabin in Maine, Lena begins to talk, for the first time in her life, about the tumultuous summer she spent as a counselor in a Soviet children’s camp twenty years earlier, when she was just discovering romance and her own sexuality. As Lena opens up to Ben about secrets she has long kept hidden, they begin to discover together not only the striking truths buried in her puzzling past, but also more immediate, passionate ones about the urgency of this short, stolen time they have together.

“Enchanting…vivid and rich” (The New York Times), filled with Lara Vapnyar’s characteristic empathy, deadpan humor, and striking honesty, The Scent of Pine weaves themes of ambition, loneliness, longing, and the fickle nature of desire into a “book of elegant writing and propulsive storytelling” (Chicago Tribune).
Choose a format:
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 192 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476712635 | 
  • January 2015
List Price $15.00
Ships on or around January 14, 2015

Read an Excerpt

The Scent of Pine ONE
It was never quiet in the woods at night. There would be a creepy rustle in the grass, or a branch would snap here or there, and that unceasing choir of cicadas. The smell was creepy too. It ought to have been some kind of romantic smell, something like pine sap heated by the sun during the day. There were plenty of pines, and it was a summer with a lot of warm, bright days, so couldn’t it have smelled nice at night? But it didn’t. The smell was moldy and damp and a little putrid. In daytime they could detect distinct undertones of... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Scent of Pine includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Though only thirty-eight, Lena finds herself in the grips of a midlife crisis. It seems impossible she will ever find happiness again. But then she strikes up a precarious friendship with Ben, a failed artist turned reluctant academic, who is just as lost as she is. They soon surprise themselves by embarking on an impulsive weekend adventure, uncharacteristically leaving their middle-aged responsibilities behind. On the way to Ben’s remote cabin in Maine, Lena begins to talk, for the first time in her life, about the tumultuous summer she spent as a counselor in a Soviet children’s camp twenty years earlier, when she was just discovering romance and her own sexuality. At a time when Russia itself was in turmoil, the once-placid world of the camp was equally unsettled, with unexplained disappearances and mysterious goings-on among the staff; Lena and her friend Inka were haunted by what they witnessed, or failed to witness, and by the fallout from those youthful relationships. As Lena opens up to Ben about secrets she has long kept hidden, they see more

About the Author

Lara Vapnyar
Photograph © Masha Rumer

Lara Vapnyar

Lara Vapnyar moved from Moscow to Brooklyn in 1994. Knowing very little English, she quickly picked up the language and soon began writing in it. She is the author of two story collections, There are Jews in My House and Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love, and a novel, Memoirs of a Muse. She lives in New York City with her family.

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