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  • reading group guide
In "the story collection of the year" (Paper magazine), Ken Kalfus mines a vast terrain of geography and metaphor to create a stunning series of portraits of people caught in the seismic collision of cultures, be they real, hallucinated, dreamed, or desired. With his "magical, transformative, and captivating" (Boston Book Review) mix of fantasy and dark humor, Kalfus has crafted an extraordinary collection that is, by turns, hilarious, mysterious, and touching.
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  • Washington Square Press | 
  • 224 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671034825 | 
  • September 1999
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Bouquet

The young au pair had grown up only twenty minutes from Grafton Street, in the pastel-colored clapboard suburb of Finglas, and she had expected Paris to be somewhat like Dublin, if bigger. But automobiles here careened down narrow streets, a subtle and capricious grammar tied the language in knots, men and women in flowing desert robes passed her as she walked the children home from school, and everywhere, on everyone's minds, on the tips of their tongues, like a secret they could not keep, there was sex. On the way to the museum with Marie and Melanie one afternoon, Nula entered a metro station in which every... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide
Discussion Questions
1. In the two stories that make up "Le Jardin de la Sexualité," Ken Kalfus imagines Paris -- through the eyes of a virginal, culturally prejudiced Irish au pair -- as a city buzzing with a powerful undercurrent of lust and frank sexuality. Throughout "Bouquet" and "Thirst," chart the progress of Nula's relationship with Henri, the young Moroccan student. What images and metaphors does the author use to illustrate his vision of Paris?
2. In what ways do the characters and events in "Bouquet" and "Thirst" underscore and inform the following pairs of words: innocence and experience; West and East; science and sex; sublimation and desire; thirst and satisfaction.
3. "The Joy and Melancholy Baseball Trivia Quiz" delivers a fantastical, alternate history of our national pastime that's as dark and tragic as it is playful, comic, and absurd. What do each of these detailed recollections have in common with each other? Consider the narrator's simultaneously poignant and detached play-by-play regarding the foul-hitting champion's at-bat: "Each memory is telescoped inside another, as all would be at the end of life and, if the world of living things is lucky, as our lives would be left to us in death: remembering remembering remembering, and so on."
4. Describe the tone of "Cats in Space." What is the attitude of the narrator, whose adult job "sometimes requires brutality, in a quiet, nine-to-five way?" see more

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