Our May pick for Ballerina Book Club, hosted by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Isabella Boylston, is “The Memory Theater” by Karin Tidbeck. A fairy tale set in a realm called the Gardens, the novel follows friends Dora and Thistle as they seek freedom.
The book begins with a dance, but the plot isn’t a party for everyone. While the opening feast is a tapestry of clacking heels and satin skirts for the lords and ladies of the realm, the young servants that tend to the revelers face a precarious existence that teeters on the knife’s edge. It’s this world that Dora and Thistle flee, setting into motion a story that weaves through the fabric of time.
“‘The Memory Theater’ is a dark fairy tale, with vividly rendered characters, that travels between worlds as the protagonists search for their true identities,” says Bella about the book pick. “Within the story exists the memory theater, a troupe of actors who perform the stories of the world and also have the power to transform the present.”
A word of caution from Bella to our younger readers and those who may be sensitive to violence: “In the tradition of old fairy tales and folklore, this book contains (quite literally) some bloodthirsty characters and scenes of violence, including violence against children. However, it’s also a story of friendship and humor built on the presumption that people are inherently good.”
In light of this, we are also recommending a Young Adult pick this month: Darcie Little Badger’s “Elatsoe.” Set in an America “shaped dramatically by the magic, monsters, knowledge and legends of its peoples, those Indigenous and those not,” the novel follows 17-year-old Elatsoe as she solves the murder of her cousin. Elatsoe, or “Ellie,” is accompanied by her ghost dog Kirby, a shimmering presence that alerts our protagonist to the fact that something is wrong at the beginning of the book.
You can find our reading schedule below. Be sure to check the newsletter for discussion questions and special surprises.
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~ Reading Schedule ~
May 6: Chapters 1-5 (Part I)
May 13: Chapters 6-18
May 20: Chapters 19-27
May 27: Chapters 28-35
~ Discussion Questions for “The Memory Theater” ~
Chapters 1-5 (Part I)
- The start of “The Memory Theater” sees our characters at a party. How does this scene differ for the ladies and lords of the realm and the servants?
- Lady Augusta wears lily of the valley perfume. What connotations do you associate with that fragrance or flower?
- How does youth function in the book’s first five sections?
- What do you make of the difference between the different locations, particularly the scene of the party, the woods and the conservatory?
- How does time function in the garden? How does this change when Lady Augusta finds the watch?
- How do the apples in the orchard track time?
- What do you make of the relationship between Dora and Thistle?
- As the servants age, their “masters” carve patterns into their skin as punishment. Once the pattern is complete, they are released, hunted, killed and eaten. What was your reaction to this?
- When Ghorbi asked Lady Augusta if she considers this torture, she retorts that it’s art. When Ghorbi presses and asks if it bothers her that her canvases are children, she replies that they are servants. What commentary does this provide?
- To be freed, the servants have to be given their name back so that they can find their way home. What kind of relationship to “names” does this establish?
- Why do you think that only children wander into the Garden?
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