Etta and Otto and Russell and James

A Novel

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

This “poetic, poignant” (US Weekly) debut features last great adventures, unlikely heroes, and a “sweet, disarming story of lasting love” (The New York Times Book Review).

Eighty-three-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Saskatchewan, Canada eastward to the sea. As Etta walks further toward the crashing waves, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur.

Otto wakes to a note left on the kitchen table. “I will try to remember to come back,” Etta writes to her husband. Otto has seen the ocean, having crossed the Atlantic years ago to fight in a far-away war. He understands. But with Etta gone, the memories come crowding in and Otto struggles to keep them at bay. Meanwhile, their neighbor Russell has spent his whole life trying to keep up with Otto and loving Etta from afar. Russell insists on finding Etta, wherever she’s gone. Leaving his own farm will be the first act of defiance in his life.

Moving from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty, burnt past of hunger, war, and passion, from trying to remember to trying to forget, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is an astounding literary debut “of deep longing, for reinvention and self-discovery, as well as for the past and for love and for the boundless unknown” (San Francisco Chronicle). “In this haunting debut, set in a starkly beautiful landscape, Hooper delineates the stories of Etta and the men she loved (Otto and Russell) as they intertwine through youth and wartime and into old age. It’s a lovely book you’ll want to linger over” (People).
  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476755687 | 
  • May 2015
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Etta and Otto and Russell and James includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Emma Hooper. 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.


Otto Vogel wakes before dawn on his farm in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, to find a letter from his wife, Etta. She will return if she can; she has never seen water and has gone to find the ocean. When their beloved neighbor Russell Palmer learns from Otto that she has left, he embarks on a mission to find her. Her husband chooses to stay home.

The two men had formed a deep bond as boys after an accident on a tractor left Russell partially crippled. Thereafter they alternated days at the schoolhouse, which was run by a young teacher, Etta Gloria Kinnick. Then World War II came, when Otto and every other young man in town (except Russell, because of his disability) was called to serve. As time passed, Etta read of Otto’s experiences in the war during a tender correspondence between them, which blossomed into romance when the young man returned on leave. Russell supported Etta emotionally when she suffered a devastating loss, but Etta chose Otto, not Russell, as her husband. The see more

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About the Author

Emma Hooper
Sean Maylon

Emma Hooper

Raised in Alberta, Canada, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the UK, where she received a doctorate in Musico-Literary studies at the University of East-Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University. A musician, Emma performs as the solo artist Waitress for the Bees and plays with a number of bands. She lives in Bath, UK, but goes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. She is the author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James and Our Homesick Songs.