The Braid

A Novel

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About The Book

In this unforgettable international bestseller, three women from very different circumstances around the world find their lives intertwined by a single object and discover what connects us—across cultures, across backgrounds, and across borders.

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 successful lawyer and twice-divorced mother of three children whose identity is wrapped up in her work. Just as she expects a big promotion, her life is shattered when she’s diagnosed with cancer.

A moving novel of hope and renewal, The Braid is a celebration of womanhood and the power of connection and perseverance.

Reading Group Guide

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

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.

About The Author

Photograph © Céline Nieszawer

Laetitia Colombani is a screenwriter, director, and actress. She also writes for the theatre. La Tresse was published in 2017 in France and under the title The Braid in the UK, U.S.A., and Canada.

 

 

Why We Love It

“What these women have in common…is a defining moment of crisis, and how each woman reacts will have lasting consequences on their families and careers. This is a truly global book and a reminder of what connects us all in difficult times.” —Kaitlin O., Associate Editor, on The Braid

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (September 2019)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982130039

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Raves and Reviews

The Braid is a beautifully written novel of determination, bravery, and hope. You will remember Smita, Giulia, and Sarah long after you’ve read their stories.”
—AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs. Bird

“We truly loved reading this beautiful simple novel in one sitting.”
—Elle France

“Laetitia Colombani is a master of the art of storytelling.”
Le Monde

“Colombani's prowess as a film and theater writer is on full display. The prose hums along without fuss, and several chapters end with terrific suspense... An impeccably crafted love letter to the oft-unseen and ignored work of women across the world.”
—Kirkus

“Colombani's debut is a beautiful story about women, strength, faith, and sacrifice... This beautifully written novel will leave readers entranced and empowered, perfect for fans of Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye.”
 —Booklist

“Colombani’s arresting debut follows three women facing extreme challenges in three different parts of the world... A sense of urgency to learn how the stories will be resolved drives the fast-paced narrative. Each character’s intimate perspective elucidates the courage that exists in every woman’s life, regardless of age, culture, or station.”
Publishers Weekly

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