Jewels of Paradise (Leon) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Why is Caterina Pellegrini so eager to return to Venice at the start of the novel? Why did she leave Italy in the first place? Are her negative feelings towards Manchester—her horror at its “physical ugliness,” for one—inspired by the place, or by her own sense of displacement?

2. What sort of institution is La Fondazione Musicale Italo-Tedesca? What does Roseanna Salvi tell Caterina about the Foundation’s prospects, and why did Caterina’s employers decide to base her research project there? What are they hoping she discovers?

3. The subject of Caterina’s research, the composer Steffani, also turns out to have spent much of his professional life outside of Italy. What other possible reason does Caterina find for the “unbearable sadness” she reads on Steffani’s face in a famous portrait of the musician? What would this potential condition have implied for Steffani’s life, and which aspect of it seems to most affect Caterina?

4. What is Caterina’s first impression of Dr. Moretti? What about him does she admire, and which of his qualities is she ambivalent about? What does she learn about him when they go to lunch?

5. What kind of a relationship does Caterina have with her sister Cristina? In what ways are they similar? How do they negotiate the sharp differences in the choices they’ve made in their lives? How is their epistolary friendship different because they correspond via email, rather than by letter?

6. Several emails into the sisters’ exchange, Cristina confesses that she’s “thinking of jumping ship...I’m deeply tired of it and of having to close an eye and then close the other one and then close the third one if I had it.” (p.  157). What is Christina referring to in this instance? Is hers a crisis of faith in God or the Catholic Church? Are there other reasons behind her desire for a change?

7. Caterina tries to make the case to Moretti that most things—not unlike religious articles such as the Book of Mormon or the Shroud of Turin—are “what enough people choose to believe” they are (p. 166), that is, either priceless relics or “nonsense.” All of Caterina’s examples are religious, but are there secular examples of objects invested with powerful meaning? From what do they derive their power?

8. What was the nature of Steffani’s relationship with the “original” cousins? Why is Caterina troubled by the tone of the letters she finds?

9. As their relationship continues to swing towards flirtation, Dr. Moretti continues to suggest opportunities for personal, rather than official, contact with Caterina. Increasingly, he also seems to show his aversion for his clients, the cousins. Why does a seemingly careful professional man insist on blurring these lines? What finally leads Caterina to conclude that he is a “coldhearted bastard?” Who is Dr. Moretti working for?

10. When Steffani’s will and the Jewels of Paradise are finally discovered by Caterina, what are the reactions of the cousins? Of Dr. Moretti? How does Caterina’s interpretation of Steffani’s bequest differ from Dr. Moretti’s?

11. Caterina’s mysterious patron—the Romanian who recommends her for the Venetian job—resurfaces several times throughout Caterina’s stay, whether in her memories of an ally in Manchester or as the owner of an email account Caterina easily accesses when she believes hers to be hacked. What is the nature of their relationship?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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