Step into the enchanting world of “The Sentence,” a captivating tale set in a quaint independent bookstore nestled in Minneapolis. From November 2019 to November 2020, the store becomes a haunting ground for Flora, an exasperating customer who refuses to depart even after her passing on All Souls’ Day.
As Tookie, a resilient soul whose love for books helped her survive the darkest of times, takes on the challenge of unraveling this spectral mystery, the story unfolds against a backdrop of grief, astonishment, isolation, and a fervent quest for truth.
Prepare to be immersed in Louise Erdrich’s masterful narrative, where ghosts and human emotions interweave to create a truly profound experience.
In this discussion guide, we will have a look at some amazing book club questions for The Sentence and try to understand why it’s a must read for anyone who craves a literary journey that blurs the lines between the living and the dead, and delves into the depths of grief, astonishment, isolation, and a relentless search for truth.
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The Sentence Book Club Questions For Discussion
- Tookie’s character development is significantly informed by her experience in prison and the novel highlights issues around incarceration rates and systemic injustices in the US. With a sentence of 60 years for crimes related to body theft and drug transport, Tookie’s experience provides a lens through which we can examine the harsh realities of the American justice system and its often disproportionate punishments, particularly for minorities.
What do Tookie’s incarceration, her early release, and the transformation of her life afterward reveal about the author’s perspectives on systemic injustice, redemption, and the potential for personal growth despite severe adversities?
- The Sentence incorporates significant real-life events from 2020, namely the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. Pollux, Tookie’s husband and a former police officer, grapples with his past in the wake of these events, while Tookie herself starts to feel resentment towards him for his role in her arrest.
How do these contemporary events and the responses of the characters help to underscore the ongoing struggle with racism and police brutality in the US, and how does it add to the complexity of Tookie and Pollux’s relationship?
- The ghost of Flora, an annoying but loyal bookstore customer, becomes an unexpected presence in Tookie’s life after her release from prison. This spectral figure seems tied to Tookie’s past, the desecration of a body, and the mysterious book “The Sentence”.
What’s your take on the ghost of Flora and the indestructible book functioning as symbols in the narrative, perhaps representing aspects of guilt, unresolved trauma, or the lasting impacts of historical injustices?
- Pollux is depicted as a multi-dimensional character. He is an integral part of Tookie’s life and the novel, representing Native American history and customs. Despite his pride in serving his community as a police officer, he grapples with the police institution’s history, which is fraught with xenophobia, racism, and oppression of the Native American community.
Considering the dynamics of his character, how does Pollux’s complex relationship with his own identity and his past as a police officer contribute to his interactions with Tookie? Also, in what ways does it impact his role as a custodian of Native American culture and history?
- One of the key themes in The Sentence is the importance of community and shared spaces, as represented by the Birchbark Books store. In the face of major societal events like the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the bookstore remains a constant, even being deemed an essential business.
How does Erdich use this setting as a space of refuge, understanding, and resistance, and how does the store’s importance evolve as the narrative unfolds amidst a changing societal backdrop?
- Tookie’s journey as the novel’s protagonist is marked by a series of dramatic highs and lows, stemming from her turbulent childhood and the hardship of her incarceration. As an Ojibwe woman, she is presented as a character of resilience who finds solace in literature during her challenging times. After her prison sentence, she consciously transforms her life, choosing love over resentment. However, it is noted that Tookie struggles with confronting her past, which sometimes impedes her personal growth.
Considering this, how does Tookie’s reluctance to face her past influence her personal transformation, and how does her encounter with Flora’s ghost lead her to reconcile her past resentments and uncertainties about her future?
- At the novel’s climax, it’s revealed that Tookie’s and Flora’s ancestors have a shared, horrific past, with Flora’s white ancestor having enslaved and tortured Tookie’s. This revelation contextualizes the haunting and provides a dramatic commentary on the lasting impacts of colonialism and racial injustices.
How does this disclosure about their ancestral connection influence your understanding of Tookie’s journey, the haunting, and the overarching themes of historical trauma and the need for truth and reparations?
- Flora’s ghost is a character steeped in symbolism, serving as a stark reminder of the relentless cultural appropriation committed by white Americans against Native Americans. As a character, Flora’s ghost initially seems harmless but gradually increases tension as it becomes apparent that she is attempting to communicate with Tookie.
Discuss how Erdrich has utilized the convention of this spectral figure, commonly seen in narratives involving Native Americans, in a unique way by portraying the ghost as a white woman instead of a Native American woman.
- Erdrich’s novel powerfully highlights the resilience and importance of Native American identity, specifically through Tookie’s journey as a member of the Minnesota Native American community. Tookie’s experiences, such as being othered for her identity or dealing with ignorant questions at the bookstore, seem to underscore the need for greater understanding and respect for Native American life and history.
Given these experiences, how does the novel explore the dynamics of cultural respect and appropriation, particularly in the context of the representation and treatment of Native American identities in contemporary American society?
- “The Sentence” emphasizes the power of love as a force of redemption, manifest primarily through the relationship between Tookie and Pollux. Their love offers a pathway for both characters to reconcile with their pasts and find stability and joy.
Considering the complexities of their individual backgrounds and their journey together, what does the novel suggest about the transformative potential of love? How does this theme contribute to the overall narrative and its exploration of personal growth and healing?
If you liked these set of questions, here are a few other options for you to explore.
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