A Fortunate Age

A Novel

A Fortunate Age

Instantly compelling and immensely satisfying, A Fortunate Age details the lives of a group of Oberlin graduates whose ambitions and friendships threaten to unravel as they chase their dreams, shed their youth, and build their lives in Brooklyn during the late 1990s.

There’s Lil, a would-be scholar whose wedding brings the group back together; Beth, who struggles to let go of her old beau Dave, a onetime piano prodigy trapped by his own insecurity; and Emily, an actor perpetually on the verge of success— and starvation—who grapples with her jealousy of Tal, whose acting career has taken off. At the center of their orbit is wry, charismatic Sadie Peregrine, who coolly observes her friends’ mistakes but can’t quite manage to avoid making her own. As they begin their careers, marry, and have children, they must navigate the shifting dynamics of their friendships and of the world around them—from the decadent age of dot-com millionaires to the sobering post–September 2001 landscape. Smith Rakoff’s deeply affecting characters capture a generation.
  • Scribner | 
  • 416 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416590804 | 
  • February 2010
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Reading Group Guide

The following discussion questions for A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff 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. 


1.      A Fortunate Age chronicles the lives of a group of friends in their late twenties struggling to carve out careers in the arts and stay afloat financially while feeling an unexpected pull to get married, have children, have some of the comforts with which they’d grown up. Talk about some of the pivotal moments in your own starting-out years and how Joanna Smith Rakoff captures similar moments in the novel.

2.      How does the time period in which the novel is set affect the lives of the characters? Describe the shift that happens after the fall of the dot-coms and after the 9/11 attacks on New York City.

3.       Discuss how the New York setting, particularly Brooklyn, shapes the novel. What was happening in Brooklyn at this time? Do you think this story is unique to New York or is it universal?

4.      Do you think Smith Rakoff was influenced by the great Victorian novels? If so discuss the books, the writers, and the ways in which their influence is apparent in Smith Rakoff ’s work. What are see more

About the Author

Joanna Smith Rakoff
Photo Credit: Elena Seibert

Joanna Smith Rakoff

Joanna Smith Rakoff has written for The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College; an M.A. from University College, London; and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She lives in New York with her husband and son.