Welcome to the second and final discussion of Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant, which is part of the read-along I’m co-hosting with Carrie at Books and Movies. If you missed them, please go back and read the part 1 discussion and Joan’s guest post. Also, don’t forget to submit your questions for Joan to Carrie as soon as possible at nnjmom at yahoo dot com. Joan will be answering these questions on Carrie’s blog on November 5.
I apologize for the delay in posting this discussion. I mismanaged my time and then got stuck in the crazy snowstorm battering the Northeastern United States—I just got home last night and was too exhausted to finish this post before today. Anyway, without further ado, here are some of my thoughts...
Note that the rest of this post contains major spoilers!
I was struck by the many parallels in Aaron and Mark’s stories: they were both lost as young men; they both had very difficult relationships with their fathers; they both turned to religion to save themselves. They even both changed their hair to mark turning points in their lives: Aaron shaves his head to show his commitment to Adamah; while Mark shaves off his beard to signify his loss of faith. And yet, their journeys go in very different directions (even as the two men meet): Mark’s leads him towards an opening up of possibilities, a chance to start again, meaningful work and love, whereas Aaron’s leads to death and despair. (Considering that he wasn’t going to be punished in any traditional sense for his crime, I can’t think of a much worse fate for Aaron that to have to remain under his parents’ supervision indefinitely.) The obvious difference between their journeys is the direction they are going in during the course of the book: Mark moves away from rigid religious views (he doesn’t, in fact, completely lose his faith, but rather loosens his grip on specific rituals of faith), which leads directly to greater happiness, whereas Aaron’s views become more fanatical—the God he professes to believes in is “the fiery God of the Hebrews who . . . drowned the Egyptians and killed all their firstborn and incinerated the priests of Baal and ordered the slaughter of thousands whenever they got in the Israelites’ way” (p. 85). Did you notice this too? What are your thoughts about this? What did you think of what happened to Aaron?
I was initially a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to find out more about Dena and what motivated her choices, but in the end, I think this really worked in the context of this novel: the reader doesn’t find out more because Yona doesn’t (which totally makes sense). However, I’m curious: Why do you think that Dena did what Yona asked her to, even though Dena refused to forgive her sister? I think Dena couldn’t forgive Yona without reassessing some of her own life choices; however, something of what Yona said got through. (And who knows what Dena will do in the future: maybe she will eventually soften her position and forgive her sister.) What are your thoughts about this?
Finally, my favourite aspect of the novel was how Joan used the quote from the Talmud, Whoever saves one life, it’s as if he’s saved an entire world. (An alternate translation is He who saves one life saves the world entire.) This is the argument Yona uses to convince her sister to save Mark Greengrass, and it’s also the explanation the doctor gives to Mark’s parents for why he (Mark) hadn’t run from the explosion (since Mark can’t remember). This moved me to tears: Because how often does a person have the opportunity to save an entire world? (p. 252).
There is so much more I could say about this book, but I’ll stop here for now. Let me know what you thought in the comments (about my questions or any other aspect of the story), and I’ll be sure to comment back!