Lily of the Valley – Readers’ Guide

Lily of the Valley: An American Jewish Journey – is, above all, a story, an original verse novella for adults, but it also can generate conversation. As such, we offer the following Readers’ Discussion Guide, a set of questions and discussion topics.

Click here to download a printable PDF.

Lily of the Valley

Readers’ Guide

1) Most Americans are descendants of immigrants (and many are immigrants themselves.) Many Americans trace their ancestry back to Ellis Island. When did your ancestors come? Did they come by ship through Ellis Island, or by plane through JFK or elsewhere? Why did they come? Were they escaping religious persecution or  political repression, or seeking economic opportunity, or all of the above? What was the experience of the first generation who came here? Did their dreams match the reality? How did they differ?

2) Lily’s story is that of Jewish immigrants and the American Dream. To what extent is it universal? Can it apply to many immigrant groups? If you are not Jewish, can you relate to Lily’s dream and the generations that made it happen?

3) If you are Jewish, what has been your family’s relationship to religion since they came to America? Are there any similarities to Lily’s family? Have you or your family been touched by Chabad or other Jewish outreach organization? What kind of impact has this had on you or your family?

4) Three of the women in the story are named Lily: the first, third and fifth generation protagonists. Why? And why not women of the intervening generations? What sort of naming cycle has your family followed? Is it similar? Do you know where your own name comes from? If you are Jewish, are your English and Hebrew names the same or different? Ashkenazi Jewish naming customs and their common trajectory in America are explained in the Glossary. Discuss what you know of naming customs in other cultures.

5) The pages that introduce each of the five parts of the book are illustrated with  border vignettes depicting scenes and events of that generation. The decorative initials at the beginning of each part do the same. In what ways do these artistic elements act as commentary to the story? Do they add nuance or draw the reader further into the era? What about the flowers and palm leaves? Do you see them merely as decorative or are they symbolic in any way? Do they enhance the story?

6) There are three motifs running through the five parts of the book: the fashion/clothing motif and Lily’s dream of becoming a dress designer; the dream of California, of a golden valley way out West; and the religious trajectory of a family gradually moving away from religious observance and eventually coming back. How are these themes dealt with in each of the five generations? Does your family have any analogous themes running through the generations? How have they manifested?

7) An allegory is a story told on both a narrative and a symbolic level. Do you think Lily of the Valley is an allegory as well as a narrative? How could it serve as symbolic of the universal American immigrant experience?

8) Lily of the Valley is a verse novella, written in rhymed iambic tetrameter. The author states in the Preface that Lily began whispering her story to her in snippets of rhymed poetry, and that is how the entire story is written. Do you think the poetic form enhances or detracts from the story? Does it add to the idea of Lily’s story as allegory?

9) The fifth generation modern day Lily hears a voice urging her to fulfill the dream and start her own line of clothing. Whose voice does she hear? Why?

10) Lily of the Valley is the story of five generations of American Jewish women. This is not the author’s autobiographical history, yet she claims in the Preface not to be entirely certain it’s fiction either. How do you interpret this?

Click here to download a printable PDF.