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A Question Mark Is Half a Heart
by Sofia Lundberg

Published: 2021-03-23T00:0
Hardcover : 320 pages
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How deeply can you love when your heart is full of secrets?

A sweeping, propulsive family story about a woman learning to love, from the bustle of New York’s fashion scene to a remote, windswept Swedish island, by the acclaimed author of The Red Address Book—“a love letter to ...

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Introduction

How deeply can you love when your heart is full of secrets?

A sweeping, propulsive family story about a woman learning to love, from the bustle of New York’s fashion scene to a remote, windswept Swedish island, by the acclaimed author of The Red Address Book—“a love letter to the human heart” (Alyson Richman).

By age 50, Elin Boals has created for herself a perfect life: her wildly successful business as Manhattan’s preeminent fashion photographer is flourishing. Her handsome, patient husband is devoted to her; her teenaged daughter, Alice, has been accepted to the ballet academy of her dreams. But then Elin receives an innocuous looking envelope. Folded inside is a star-chart, with an address written by a familiar hand.

Shaken, Elin begins to have startling flashbacks, to a life very different from the childhood in a Paris bookstore that she has so lovingly recounted to Alice. In these images, a poverty-stricken little girl cares for her two ragged baby brothers, laughing with her family on the good days, sheltering them from her mother’s sadness and her father’s wrath on the bad days. Elin also remembers vivid walks with a young classmate, Fredrik, whose steadfast friendship and starlit confidences shaped her young life. As Elin becomes consumed by these memories, though, her New York life begins to crumble dramatically. Finally, her family’s troubling questions drive her to face, at last, the brutal secret from her past.

At once a heartwarming family story and a page-turning mystery, A Question Mark Is Half a Heart traces a surprising journey across continents to reconciliation, and toward finding a true sense of home.

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Excerpt

Now
New York, 2017



It’s dusk. Outside the industrial windows, the sun is setting behind the tall buildings. Stubborn rays wedge their way between the facades; like golden spearheads they penetrate the encroaching darkness. Evening again. Elin hasn’t eaten dinner at home in several weeks. She won’t to- night, either. She turns to look at the building just a few blocks away, where she can see the luxuriant vegetation on her very own roof terrace, the red parasol, and the barbecue that’s already been lit. A narrow col- umn of smoke rises toward the sky. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. What was inside the package sent to Elin by Fredrik Grinde? What is Elin’s relationship to the sender and what does the gift represent for her? What effect does the receipt of it have on Elin? Why does she try to hide the gift from her husband Sam? When Sam discovers it, how does he react? Were you surprised by his response? Why or why not?

2. In addition to the gift from Fredrik, what other secrets has Elin been keeping from her husband and daughter? How does her past differ from the one she has represented to Sam and Alice over the years? Why did she choose to keep these aspects of her life secret rather than telling the truth? Do you think that she made the right choice? How do you think Sam might have reacted if Elin had told the truth from the beginning?

3. Consider Elin’s relationship to her career. Why does she spend so much time working and how does this affect her relationship with her husband and daughter? Do you think that Sam and Alice’s complaints about how much time Elin dedicates to her work are valid? Why or why not? What does Elin confess that her job has really been about? What ceases when she is taking photographs?

4. As Alice talks about her own passion with Elin, what important question does she pose about passion versus escapism? What does the book ultimately suggest about work-life balance and about commitment and dedication versus diversion or avoidance?

5. How does the novel deal with the subject of abuse? What kinds of abuses are Elin and other characters in the book subjected to? How do they cope with this? What long-term impact does this seem to have on Elin? Is she ever able to come to terms with this and heal from the traumas she has experienced? If so, how? What does the book suggest about cycles of abuse? Why is Elin so upset that her daughter compares her to her mother?

6. Consider how the book creates a dialogue about poverty. What is daily life like for Elin and her siblings? Why did Elin’s father end up in prison and what further strains does this place on the family and on Elin as a young caretaker? Why does Elin’s mother refer to even the children as little criminals? Is the family ever able to surmount their financial struggles?

7. Explore the author’s characterization of Elin’s parents. Would you say that they were drawn sympathetically by the author? Did you feel any sympathy towards either character? Why or why not? What kinds of mistakes do Elin’s parents make and how does this impact their family? How is their characterization influenced by Elin’s point of view and the depictions of her love and care for them?

8. Where does the title of the book come from? What does “a question mark is half a heart” mean? What does it suggest about the major themes of love and intimacy? Does the book ever answer the question: Can one truly love and be loved while keeping secrets?

9. Why did Elin flee her childhood home? How does her view of these events change after she returns to her childhood home in Sweden? What surprising truths does Elin learn about the tragedy that led to her leaving the island? How does she respond to these revelations? What is Elin’s reunion with her family in Sweden like? Were you surprised by her interactions with her mother? Why or why not? How does the visit give Elin clarity about her own family situation?

10. Explore the theme of reconciliation. How does the book answer the question of how reconciliation is achieved? What does it entail? How does Elin come to reconcile with her difficult past and with members of her own family? Is she forgiven by her husband and her daughter? Is she ever able to forgive herself?


About the Author

Sofia Lundberg is a journalist and former magazine editor. She is the author of A Question Mark is Half a Heart (2018) and The Red Address Book (2017). Her debut novel The Red Address Book, published in more than 28 countries, was shortlisted for the Suomalainen kirjakauppa Book of the Year Award in Finland and LovelyBooks’ Der Leserpreis, the largest readers’ choice book award in the German-speaking region. Lundberg resides in Stockholm.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Backman, Fredrik. Britt-Marie Was Here
Friedland, Elyssa. The Intermission
Giffin, Emily. Where We Belong
Jackson, Stina. The Silver Road
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You
Reed, Deborah. Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan
Semple, Maria. Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Wolitzer, Meg. This Is My Life

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