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Orfeo (Powers) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also, consider using these LitLovers talking points to start a discussion for Orfeo:

1. We're told at the beginning of Orfeo that Americans have shortened their attention spans. “The country’s collective concentration was simply shot,” Powers writes. “People couldn’t hold a thought or pursue a short-term goal for anywhere near as long as they could a few years before.” Do you agree? If so, why...or how?

2. Throughout his life Peter has craved a sense of awe: "surprise...suspense...and a sense of the infinite...beauty"—a nobel goal, perhaps. But in his attempts to attain the sublime, what has he sacrificed?

3. The music that Peter has worked his life to create has as its goal "to change its listeners....to raise everyone he every new from the dead and make them laugh with remembering." Is he overstating his belief in music's capabilities? What is music's effect on the human soul? What is it to you personally?

4. What drives Peter? What is he so desperate to encode melody in the nucleotides of bacteria? What might Richard Powers be suggesting about the place of music in life...or the place of all art?

5. "All I ever wanted was to make one slight noise that might delight you all," Peter says. what does he mean? Is he being disingenuous...or sincere?

6. The book can be seen as a commentary on government's overreaching and the media's gullibility. In fact, Powers draws parallels between viruses and viral media. In light of 9/11, is the nation overly tramatized? Or do think our fearfulness is justified?

7. If you're not already familiar with the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, do some research. Why has the author chosen this to name his book after Orpheus (more precisely, the the opera by Monteverdi)? Is the title symbolic? Is it ironic?

8. On the lam from government agents, Peter revisits his past. To which character are are you most sympathetic? His exwife, perhaps, or his daughter? How did Richard's pursuit of transcendence and music interfer, even damage, his relaitonships with those closest to him?

9. Talk about the book's other powerful stories of fraught connections between music and politics—Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," written in a Nazi  death camp, and Shostakovich's relationship with the Stalin regime.

10. Peter believes that we are glutted with artistic attempts to be original and transcendent. What do you make of his observation that "the job of taste was to thin the insane torrent of human creativity down to manageable levels. But the job of appetite was never to be happy with taste."

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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