This reading group guide for Turbulence 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 book.Introduction
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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?
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?
’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
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.