Following her National Book Critics Circle and Los Angeles Times Book Award-nominated, bestselling debut, Brick Lane, Monica Ali's splendid Alentejo Blue "rewards readers with characters who etch themselves into one's memory" (People).
Set in a small Portuguese village, Alentejo Blue is a story of displacement and modernization told through the lives of the locals and of people who are just passing through. The residents of Mamarrosa whose ancestors occupy the graveyards are restless and struggle to make a living. They watch as tourists and expats move in.
Monica Ali's characters are profoundly sympathetic. Her understanding of their dreams, desires, and disappointments is rare and moving. Alentejo Blue is evidence that Monica Ali is one of the most gifted voices of her generation.
Questions for Discussion: 1. The stories in Alentejo Blue are linked by location and characters. Which story did you find the most compelling and why? 2. Vasco has one of the most consistent presences throughout the book: his story is told either through his own voice or by those who visit his café. Discuss him and how he and his café set a framework for the book. 3. In the book an "expatriot" is described as someone who has exiled oneself, or separated oneself from their fatherland. Which characters do you consider to be expatriots? Discuss the writer Stanton and the Potts family. Discuss Theresa and her impending move to London and her separation from her homeland. 4. Monica Ali demystifies and demythologizes Portugal in this book. Once known as the country that spearheaded the exploration of the world and undertook the Age of Discovery, Portugal's cultural influences include Roman, Spanish, Celtic, and Moorish influences, which provide it with its rich cultural heritage. Yet, Ali depicts Mamarossa as a tough and hardscrabble town, hardly inviting for tourists. Discuss the couple - The Mowatts - who are on holiday in Mamarossa. How does their experience make you view Portugal. 5. Throughout the book there is an undercurrent of immorality-from the petty thievery of Ruby Potts to the adulterous affair of Stanton and Chrissie Potts to the small lies that the characters tell each other. What other indiscretions are revealed? Discuss how these indiscretions set the tone for the book. 6. One of the most interesting relationships in Alentejo Blue is the friendship that Stanton shares with Ray Potts. Why does Stanton allow Ray to loiter and what do you think attracts the boy to Stanton? 7. Describe the relationship of the Potts family to the other characters in the book. Why do you think the Potts's play such a central role in Alentejo Blue? 8. Discuss the significance of sex and sexuality in Alentejo Blue. How does the unromantic and stark portrait of sex and sexuality relate to the book's main themes, particularly that of belonging? 9. Who, if anyone, do you feel is the central or anchoring presence in Alentejo Blue? 10. The last story takes place in Vasco's café and envelops the entire community. What is the importance of ending the book with this story? Discuss community as it relates to your own life and neighborhood. 11. How does Alentejo Blue compare to Ali's first novel Brick Lane? What themes do they have in common? ENHANCING YOUR BOOK CLUB 1. Visit Portugal's website to learn more about the country and its history: http://www.portugal.org/index.shtml 2. Learn more about Monica Ali on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monica_Ali Want to read more on travel and self-discovery through travel? A Short Trip in the Alentejo by Robert and Mary Wilson Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mays Andorra, a Novel by Peter Cameron Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
Monica Ali has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. She is the author of In the Kitchen, Alentejo Blue, and Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She lives in London with her husband and two children.