The Lightest Object in the Universe: A Novel
by Eisele Kimi

Published: 2020-06-30T00:0
Paperback : 352 pages
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A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection * An Indie Next Pick * An Indies Introduce Selection * One of Reader’s Digest’s Best Summer Books of 2019 * One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2019 * One of Real Simple’s Best Books of 2019 ...

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A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection * An Indie Next Pick * An Indies Introduce Selection * One of Reader’s Digest’s Best Summer Books of 2019 * One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2019 * One of Real Simple’s Best Books of 2019

“[This] might be the most optimistic post-apocalyptic story ever written. It’s Sleepless in Seattle meets Station Eleven.” —The A.V. Club

Carson is on the East Coast when the electrical grid goes down. Desperate to find Beatrix, a woman on the West Coast who holds his heart, he sets off along a cross-country railroad line, where he encounters lost souls, clever opportunists, and those seeking salvation. Meanwhile, Beatrix and her neighbors begin to construct a cooperative community, working to turn the end of the world into the possibility of a bright beginning.

Without modern means of communication, will Beatrix and Carson be able to find their way to each other? The answer may lie with one fifteen-year-old girl, whose actions could ultimately decide the fate of the lovers.

The Lightest Object in the Universe is a moving story about adaptation and the power of community, imagining a world where our best traits, born of necessity, can begin to emerge.

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At the end of a long and narrow street not far from the sea, right around the time of the spring equinox, the sun rose as a sliver between two skyscrapers. Carson Waller could see it if he stepped out onto the tiny balcony of his apartment at precisely the right time. One morning in mid-March, he woke just as the light was shifting, the beige color of his bedroom walls warming to yellow. Time to rise. To admire the light and to tend to the tasks of this strange new life: fill water buckets, forage for food, track down supplies. In a few days, he’d leave this apartment—this whole city—behind. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The book alternates between the perspectives of Carson and Beatrix, and later, Rosie. Each confronts the events of the collapse in distinct ways. Which character did you most identify with, and why?

2. One of the first characters we meet in the novel is Ayo, Carson’s former doorman. What is the significance of his presence, both in Carson’s life and in the larger story?

3. Carson learns early on to read situations quickly and use his instincts. He often trusts those he meets; sometimes, but not always, this works in his favor. Where does his trust come from and how does it serve him? Are you someone who often leads with trust?

4. Dragon and Flash are part of the People’s Bicycle Brigade (PBB), which they describe as “the internet on wheels.” What role does the PBB come to play in the book? Is there a real-life equivalent of the PBB, or another organization that functions similarly, in your community or city?

5. One of the central themes in the book is faith—from personal conviction to religious belief. How do the characters (Carson, Beatrix, Jonathan Blue, Rosie, Maria del Carmen, Flash, Dragon, and others) each define faith and in what ways are they “faithful”?

6. When Flash is consoling Rosie about her grandmother’s protectiveness, he speaks about faith as a series of “good deeds.” What are some examples of good deeds performed in the book? What are some of your own good deeds?
7. In adapting to life in her neighborhood, Beatrix takes on creative tasks to bring people together. Along the way she encounters neighbors who are willing to join her efforts, and others less so. How well do you know your neighbors? What opportunities exist for interacting with others in your neighborhood? What kind of neighbor are you?
8. What is the role of art and storytelling in the novel?
9. Carson embarks on an epic journey in traveling on foot across the country to find Beatrix. How is he changed by the journey? What long journeys have you made, either actual or metaphorical, and how have they changed you?
10. What is the interplay between individual and collective loss in the aftermath of the collapse? In what ways do personal losses become amplified or diminished by collective losses?
11. Birds appear often in the novel. Where do they appear and what do they signify for the characters? For the story?
12. Rosie comes of age during the novel, with many situations contributing to her accelerated maturity. Can you trace the arc of her development? How might you have responded to these situations as a teenager?
13. An epigraph at the opening of the novel quotes Bill McKibben naming the heaviest object in the universe. What does he mean by this? What do you think its reverse—“the lightest object”—refers to, and why is it the book’s title?
14. In what ways did the book inspire you to think about your own strategies for surviving an apocalypse, should one happen? How self-reliant are you? Whom would you turn to for help? How dependent are you on the electrical grid and how would life be different for you if you had less power?
15. The novel is set in the near future after a series of unprecedented economic and energy failures. What historical or present-day realities did it make you think about?

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