Elsey Come Home (Conley) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for ELSEY COME HOME … then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Elsey? Why is her life such a struggle? As the book progresses through flashbacks, what do we come to learn about Elsey's past that continues to haunt her?

2. What makes Elsey decide to attend the retreat? Is it solely to please or assuage Lukas?

3. Once at the retreat, Justice, the leader, tells a story of a Daoist philosopher who dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke, he could not tell if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Justice tells the group, "This is what I want from you here. To become a butterfly." What does he mean?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: Elsey admits to being puzzled by the butterfly dream and Justice's charge to become a butterfly, but she says, "I just knew I wanted to be like him, calm." Is that part of what Justice means, or perhaps at least a beginning of an inward journey?

5. Elsey seems to mock herself. "You hear it and don’t understand when women say they lost themselves because it seems so overdone," she says at one point, "and there are four hundred million people in China living on a dollar a day, so cry me a river." Is Elsey's self-deprecation, or her sense of guilt, over the magnitude of her problems genuine? Is she right: do her problems pale in comparison to others, especially in China? Is she simply being self-indulgent, complaining about first-world problems? On the other hand, is Elsey being unfair to herself?

6. Elsey says, "I couldn't understand how to be obsessed with my children and obsessed with my painting at the same time. I thought both called for obsession." Parse those two sentences—in terms of Elsey's life goals and in terms of your own. Is obsession necessary for pursuing a career and/or raising a family?

7. The author gives a bird's-eye view of China and its numerous social problems: disappearing activists, kidnapped Hong Kong booksellers, the plight of factory workers, and abortion used as birth control. Were these insights into Chinese society interesting, or did you find them distracting from the main story?

8. Talk about the meaning of the novel's title: Elsey come home. Where is home, what is home—in other words, what is the meaning of home, for Elsey in this book, for you, for anyone?

9. Talk about the way in which the week-long retreat changes Elsey. What insights into her life does she gain? How does her friendship with Mei affect her? What about the other participants? What are their individual roles in this story?

10. What do you see for Elsey in the future?

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