The Book of Dahlia

A Novel

The Book of Dahlia

From the author of the critically acclaimed story collection How This Night Is Different comes a dark, arresting, fearlessly funny story of one young woman's terminal illness. In The Book of Dahlia, Elisa Albert walks a dazzling line between gravitas and irreverence, mining an exhilarating blend of skepticism and curiosity, compassion and candor, high and low culture.

Meet Dahlia Finger: twenty-nine, depressed, whip-smart, occasionally affable, bracingly honest, resolutely single, and perennially unemployed. She spends her days stoned in front of the TV, watching the same movies repeatedly, like "a form of prayer." But Dahlia's so-called life is upended by an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor.

Stunned and uncomprehending, Dahlia must work toward reluctant emotional reckoning with the aid of a questionable self-help guide. She obsessively revisits the myriad heartbreaks, disappointments, rages, and regrets that comprise the story of her life -- from her parents' haphazard Israeli courtship to her kibbutz conception; from the role of beloved daughter and little sister to that of abandoned, suicidal adolescent; from an affluent childhood in Los Angeles to an aimless existence in the gentrified wilds of Brooklyn; from a girl with "options" to a girl with none -- convinced that cancer struck because she herself is somehow at fault.

With her take-no-prisoners perspective, her depressive humor, and her extreme vulnerability, Dahlia Finger is an unforgettable anti-heroine. This staggering portrait of one young woman's life and death confirms Elisa Albert as a "witty, incisive" (Variety) and even "wonder-inducing" writer (Time Out New York).
  • Free Press | 
  • 288 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743291309 | 
  • March 2009
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions
1. What was your initial impression of Dahlia? Did your opinion change as the story progressed and significant details about her life experience were revealed? Why or why not?
2. What do you think about the idea that a positive attitude is the most important ingredient for a happy, healthy life? Why does Dahlia resist this theory, and what does it tell us about her? Do you think Dahlia's attitude "dooms" her? Many of us have had experiences with cancer, either personally or in our families. In our experiences, how has this dictate to be "positive" affected us and our loved ones? Is there a part of us that wants to kick and scream and complain and feel sorry for ourselves, even though we know it's not productive? Discuss your own experiences with illness. Does illness transform us? Why or why not?
3. "Sure, the situation was bad, but Dahlia felt free, freer than ever, to do what she did best: muck around in the heinous reality of it. She was unimpeachable. She could say and think and feel whatever she wanted. She had cancer! (p. 40)" On some level is Dahlia a little bit glad to have this terminal illness? Does she believe it lends weight and shape and meaning and confirmation to her enormous unhappiness?
4. Dahlia spends a lot of her time watching television, often viewing the same movies on cable over and over again. Why is watching familiar movies "a kind of prayer (p. 6)" for Dahlia?
5. Discuss Dahlia's relatio see more

More Books from this Author

Freud's Blind Spot
How This Night Is Different

About the Author

Elisa Albert
Photo Credit: Jen Mazer

Elisa Albert

Elisa Albert is the author of the short story collection How This Night is Different and the novel The Book of Dahlia.  She has taught creative writing at Columbia University and is currently Writer-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in Holland.