This reading group guide for The Braid includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.Introduction
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In The Braid
, an international bestseller, three women from very different circumstances find their lives connected—across borders, across languages, across cultures.
In India, Smita is an untouchable. Desperate to give her daughter an education, she takes her child and flees her small village with nothing but resourcefulness, eventually heading to a temple where she will experience a rebirth.
In Sicily, Giulia works in her father’s wig workshop, the last of its kind in Palermo. She washes, bleaches, and dyes the hair provided by the city’s hairdressers, which is now in short supply. But when her father is the victim of a serious accident, she discovers that the company’s financial situation is dire. Now she must find a way to save her family’s livelihood.
In Canada, Sarah is a twice-divorced mother of three children and a successful lawyer, whose identity is wrapped up in her work. Just as she expects a big promotion, she learns she has breast cancer.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In this novel, the three characters’ stories intersect and overlap like a braid. How do you think this structure affects your reading experience?
2. The book opens with Smita, who is hopeful about her daughter’s first day of school. Why do you think the author chooses to start the novel with her perspective and at this time?
3. A member of the untouchable caste, it’s Smita’s job to empty the latrines. When describing her husband’s perspective, she notes that her station in life is “your heritage, a circle no one can break. Karma
” (page 6). How does Smita adhere to or reject these words?
4. Giulia is passionate about both her family and her work, remarking on page 13 that “hair was more than a tradition for the Lanfredi; it was a passion, passed down from generation to generation.” Compare this to Smita’s and Sarah’s views about their jobs.
5. Sarah, a mother and successful lawyer, shirks “all the labels the magazines loved to pin on women like her, as burdensome as the tote bags they slung over their shoulders” (page 18). How does her sense of self change over the course of the novel?
6. After her father has been injured, Giulia’s mother prays for a miracle and Giulia remarks, “Her conviction was such that Giulia felt suddenly envious of her mother’s faith—the unshakable faith that had never deserted her” (page 36). Smita and Lalita, too, put their faith in Vishnu throughout the novel. How do their disparate faiths get both women through difficult times?
7. On page 52, after Lalita refuses to sweep the floor at school, Smita feels pride in her daughter because “Lalita had not given in. She had said no.” How do you think Lalita’s disobedience influences Smita? Does she draw her own strength from her daughter?
8. Giulia and Kamal come from wildly different backgrounds. What do you think unites them?
9. After Sarah runs into Inès as the hospital, she observes that “Inès was like her. She gave nothing away, never talked much about her life. It was a quality Sarah appreciated” (page 92). Is Inès’s betrayal all the more difficult because she reminds Sarah of herself?
10. When Giulia learns of her father’s debts, she recalls a conversation in which “he had mentioned that the Sicilian tradition of cascatura
was disappearing. Modern life, he had told her” (page 105). How does Giulia balance tradition and modernity, both at work and in her personal life?
11. At the train station, Smita has a conversation with a woman named Lakshmamma, who is on her way to Vrindavan, the City of White Widows, along with her sons. She asks Smita whether “they have a husband, a father, or a brother to travel with them” (page 125). How does the conversation with Lakshmamma affect Smita?
12. In the depths of her despair, Sarah thinks of herself with cancer as “Untouchable . . . Relegated to the margins of society” (page 163). Do you think this is an apt description for what she faces and the way she’s been treated by her colleagues?
13. At the temple in Tirupati, Smita makes an offering to Vishnu by cutting her hair, “a tradition dating back thousands of years: to offer your hair is to renounce all vanity, all sense of self, to lay yourself bare and come before the god in total humility” (page 178). Beyond this, what do you think the offering represents to Smita?
14. Of the wig Sarah chooses, the saleswoman notes it took “eighty hours of work, around 150,000 individual hairs. This is a very fine, rare piece” (page 192). How does the rest of this novel color your understanding of the work—and chance—that went into making the wig?
15. The novel ends on page 198 with stanzas of a poem that has threaded throughout the story. Why do you think the author chose to end the novel this way?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Smita, Giulia, and Sarah all live in different cities. Research Badlapur, Palermo, and Montreal. Which city would you and your book club most like to visit?The Braid
was originally published in France and translated into English. Choose another French bestseller translated into English, like The Elegance of the Hedgehog
or The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles
as your next read.
Given the variety of cultures here, have an international potluck inspired by the countries in the novel.