This reading group guide for Paris, 7 A.M. 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 bookIntroduction
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June 1937. Elizabeth Bishop, still only a young woman and not yet one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century, arrives in France with her college roommates. They are in search of an escape, and inspiration, far from the protective world of Vassar College where they were expected to find impressive husbands, quiet lives, and act accordingly. But the world is changing, and as they explore the City of Light, the larger threats of fascism and occupation are looming. There, they meet a community of upper-crust expatriates who not only bring them along on a life-changing adventure, but also into an underground world of rebellion that will quietly alter the course of Elizabeth’s life forever. Paris, 7 A.M.
imagines 1937—the only year Elizabeth, a meticulous keeper of journals, didn’t fully chronicle—in vivid detail and brings us from Paris to Normandy where Elizabeth becomes involved with a group rescuing Jewish “orphans” and delivering them to convents where they will be baptized as Catholics and saved from the impending horror their parents will face.
Poignant and captivating, Liza Wieland’s Paris, 7 A.M.
is a beautifully rendered take on the formative years of one of America’s most celebrated—and mythologized—female poets.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Elizabeth has little experience as a writer when she meets Miss Marianne Moore. What is the significance of their meeting so early in her journey as a writer? Does it inspire Elizabeth or intimidate her?
2. Elizabeth describes a regular visit with her friend Robert. Discuss their relationship and why Elizabeth behaves as she does. What about their interaction makes her anxious?
3. Elizabeth has long been estranged from her mother. Nevertheless, she is deeply affected by her death. Why? What about their relationship makes her death so difficult? Does it influence Elizabeth’s decision to travel abroad?
4. On her way to Paris, Elizabeth stops along the coast. While there she steals a red blouse from a woman in the circus and tries it on. Why does she do something so bold and reckless? What urges her to try on the blouse?
5. While in Europe, Elizabeth learns about Robert’s death and has trouble dealing with it. Why does his death stick with her? Is her guilt warranted? Do you think she should move on?
6. Elizabeth and Louise travel the world at Louise’s expense. Describe their relationship. How does Louise treat Elizabeth? Who is dependent on whom?
7. When the girls move to Paris they meet Clara and learn her story. What is your initial reaction to Clara? What do you think of her budding relationship with Elizabeth?
8. What do you think of the interaction between Elizabeth, Robert’s mom, and Clara? Do you think she had the right to call out Clara’s obsessive behavior?
9. Why do Elizabeth and the girls visit the brothel? What does this moment reveal about the women in 1937 Paris?
10. Margaret suffers a serious injury while traveling. How does she face her new disability? How does the accident change Elizabeth and the others?
11. People are becoming more and more panicked by the impending war, and the girls have many encounters with German soldiers. Elizabeth even has an interesting interaction with one. How do they feel about the world they’ve found themselves in?
12. Elizabeth travels north with Clara to escape Paris but ends up involved in something much bigger than herself. Do you think she would have helped Clara smuggle babies if she hadn’t been tricked into it? Why or why not?
13. Elizabeth is deeply affected by her trip with the babies. What about this experience stays with her? How does it change her?
14. Sigrid is very important to Elizabeth, but she cuts ties when she returns to America. Why does she end their relationship? What other parts of her life in Paris does she decide leave behind?
15. After decades, Clara and Elizabeth run into each other in America. We have no information about the intervening years. Discuss why their encounter is so tense. After everything they faced together, why is Clara so distant?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Imagine you have moved to Europe at the start of World War II. You interact with German soldiers and sense unease and fear everywhere. Would you stay? Discuss how you would act with the German soldiers.
2. You are in Europe at the brink of WWII. An underground group approaches you for help protecting Jews or Americans trying to escape Europe. Would you help? Why or why not?
3. Elizabeth had many intimate relationships in America and Paris. What was challenging about each of these? What was her healthiest relationship? What was her most detrimental? Explain.
4. This story imagines the years that Elizabeth did not chronicle religiously. Given what you know about her poetry, do you think this is an accurate assumption about her adventures during the unknown years?