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Table of Contents
About The Book
*A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice*
A “masterful” (The Washington Post), “cathartic” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), novel about twelve people, mostly strangers, and the surprising ripple effect each one has on the life of the next as they cross paths while in transit around the world—from the Booker Prize–shortlisted author of All That Man Is.
In this “compelling” (The Christian Science Monitor), “crisp and clever” (Vanity Fair) novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.
Written with magic and economy, “Szalay explores the miraculous ability of our shared humanity to lift us from loneliness” (Esquire) and delivers a dazzling portrait of the interconnectedness of the modern world.
Reading Group Guide
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In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.
Written with magic and economy and beautifully exploring the delicate, crisscrossed nature of relationships today, Turbulence is a dazzling portrait of the interconnectedness of the modern world.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Consider the following quote along with the title of the book: “What she hated about even mild turbulence was the way it ended the illusion of security, the way that it made it impossible to pretend that she was somewhere safe” (page 8). Other than the literal and physical connection to travel, what is Szalay suggesting metaphorically or thematically about the novel?
2. Despite the slimness of the novel, Turbulence features a large cast of characters, all on the precipice of life-altering moments. Discuss with your group how Szalay is able to establish a character in a complex emotional situation in just a few pages.
3. Consider the two quotes below and how they might be in conversation with one another: “the tightly packed fabric of the world seemed to loosen” (page 8) and “‘People have no sense of geography,’ the pilot said. ‘How the world fits together, you know’” (page 46).
4. Discuss with your group the importance of traveling. Have you ever had any memorable interactions with strangers while in transit?
5. The novel’s point of view is a close third person using the past tense. Discuss with your group how the novel might have been different if told in first person or in the present tense.
6. Szalay manages to seamlessly transition between different characters’ points of view. How is this achieved structurally? What is the impact emotionally?
7. Did you find yourself compelled by one character or story in particular or were you interested in all of them equally? Why or why not?
8. Consider this quote: “It was one of those events, she thought, that make us what we are, for ourselves and for other people. They just seem to happen, and then they’re there forever, and slowly we understand that we’re stuck with them, that nothing will ever be the same again” (page 57). How does this character’s philosophy and rumination fit into the novel as a whole?
9. Turbulence encourages the reader to consider the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. Discuss with your group what you think the novel was suggesting about these topics.
10. The twelve pieces that make up Turbulence were originally written to be read aloud on BBC Radio. Did you view these pieces as vignettes, short stories, or a novel? Discuss how one might identify or define each of these forms. How does our definition of what a book is or is not impact how we view or read a book?
11. Turbulence’s final chapter circles back to the beginning of the novel. Discuss why Szalay might have chosen this structure. What does this suggest thematically?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Turbulence utilizes airport codes to transition between pieces and physical locations. At what point did you understand this feature? Discuss with your group how many of the codes you knew or how many of the airports you have passed through.
2. Szalay is also the author of All That Man Is. Discuss his other work and how it fits in with Turbulence with your group.
3. In the final story, the main character notices a framed quote from John F. Kennedy’s 1963 “peace speech”: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal” (page 138). Listen to or read Kennedy’s full speech with your group and discuss this quote in relation to the book.
- Publisher: Scribner (July 16, 2019)
- Length: 160 pages
- ISBN13: 9781982122751
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Raves and Reviews
Praise for Turbulence
“Masterful. . . . Its intensity is surprising. . . . Much of the fun of Turbulence is discovering how Szalay will upend the reader’s perspective of a character from one chapter to the next... Clever... Turbulence suggests that such events might shape us, but they don’t define us. Take a good look, Szalay is saying, and do something about it."
– The Washington Post
"Turbulence is a sleek machine with a cool tone... Szalay is a gifted writer."
– Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Profound… Unexpectedly moving… Szalay’s gift for inhabiting entirely different lives is as remarkable and spooky as ever.”
– The Times
"Presents us with a series of lives that feel at once profoundly particular and yet also emblematic, a portrait of our species at a time of crisis... What Turbulence shares with its predecessor is Szalay’s characteristically effortless prose, his ability to distill lives into vignettes, the sense of an author whose curiosity about his fellow humans is boundless. The 21st century, Turbulence suggests, is taking place several miles above the earth, or in overlit and anonymous airports. Szalay is our greatest chronicler of these rootless, tradeworn places, and the desperate, itinerant lives of those who inhabit them."
– The Guardian
“A (world) tour de force, an exploration in fiction of the concept of six degrees of separation. . . . The chapters are tiny cross sections of lives, lovingly examined under the writer's microscope. The result is a book that is high concept but—thanks to Szalay's gift for compression and the same empathetic imagination that was on display in All That Man Is—never gimmicky. Szalay has devised an ingenious way to accommodate enormous range in a miniature form. Subtle, smart—a triumph.”
– Kirkus, starred reviews
“Crisp and clever. . . . Writing with a restraint that comes close to minimalism, Szalay boils down each moment to its most vital and crystalline essence.”
– Vanity Fair
“Turbulence is somehow light yet also quite moving, offering readers deep, empathetic connections with men and women whose lives differ dramatically from those of one another. Szalay’s range is impressive, given the tendency of many novelists to circumscribe their stories within a particular culture or social circle, usually the one most familiar to them. By contrast, Szalay draws his characters from a variety of nationalities, economic circumstances, religious identities, and stages of life, yet all are distinct individuals who are entirely believable and captivating. . . . Szalay is particularly adept at immersing us in the consciousness of men who, whether doctors or gardeners, rage against their powerlessness in the wider world and in the smaller world of their personal lives. That he does so with such economy is what makes Turbulence masterful... Compelling... I wanted more time with every person in Szalay’s book.”
– Christian Science Monitor
"Elegant... Impressive... Page by page, Szalay’s mixture of directness and withholding looks increasingly masterly."
– The Financial Times
"A satisfying, globetrotting narrative."
– AM New York
"What ties these stories together, 12 of them in total, is that they all begin or end at an airport. Through this concept, Turbulence shows the ways in which these major thoroughfares act as spaces where any and all worlds may converge, often in profound ways. Through characters who are diverse in national identity, religion, socio-economic status, background and circumstance, Szalay is able to evoke a range of emotions perhaps unavailable to a more traditionally organized novel. The contrasting perspectives of Szalay's characters are what make this novel conceptually impressive, but it is the individual characters who animate the novel from page to page. Because the time with each character is so brief, readers are transported directly into the midst of some of their greatest crises, allowing access to an intimate connection it might otherwise take several hundred pages to build. Written in clear and penetrating prose, Szalay's Turbulence is a refreshing and empathetic take on the cosmopolitan novel."
– Shelf Awareness, starred review
“Especially striking is how easily [Szalay] inhabits diverse perspectives…. He pulls off this imaginative feat because his focus is on age-old themes of mortality and desire… A willingness to leave dots unjoined is one of the virtues that make Mr. Szalay’s fiction so rewarding.”
– The Economist
"Szalay’s spare writing packs an emotional punch, his impressionistic sketches capturing in just a few pages the pivotal moments of entire lives. Turbulence is an inventive examination of the ties that bind us together and the ease with which they can be broken.”
“In this patchwork of deeply felt vignettes, Szalay turns a loving eye on 12 disparate strangers, each of them drawn together while in transit around the world. As their lives intersect in far-flung cities ranging from London to Dakar, Szalay explores the miraculous ability of our shared humanity to lift us from loneliness.”
“Szalay innovates in this ingenious new book… He knows about people… Stark and spare, Turbulence is an impressive novel.”
– The Spectator
“It is at once uplifting and humbling, the bittersweet essence of life itself.”
– The Toronto Star
"[Szalay is] a master... Turbulence, told so limpidly that it may seem quite slight, is a chilling achievement."
– Evening Standard
"A Canterbury Talesfor our modern era."
– Lit Hub
“Impressive… Swift, surprising… Skillfully done.”
– The Times Literary Supplement
"Szalay has given us some brilliantly rendered slices of life to enjoy... there’s barely a story here which isn’t in
some way engaging and absorbing, the author’s compassion and involvement with his characters shining
through even in their times of deepest isolation."
– Scotland Herald
"Deftly wrought... reads like a turbo-charged daisy-chain... appallingly immersive."
– Daily Mail
“What is perhaps the most clever and profound about this book is how the characters in each chapter are linked to the one that precedes it, coming full circle at the end.”
– Orange County Register
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