Sept 22 – November 17 library staff read aloud and recorded the book Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang. Each reading was followed by discussion questions (discussions were not recorded).
Listen to our recordings, then reflect on the discussion questions.
Week 1 Recording:
https://youtu.be/CMLsP47wNFg (How It Began – Chapter 3) 1 hour, 4 minutes
Week 1 Discussion Questions:
1. Wang gives glimpses of generational trauma and how it has influenced the people in Beautiful Country. How did the experiences of Ba Ba’s family contribute to his decision to leave China?
2. Ba Ba’s decision to leave his homeland and family for something better is a familiar one for many immigrants. What sort of expectations do you think Ba Ba had when he made this decision?
Week 2 Recording:
https://youtu.be/jJlB_nxBVaI (Chapters 4-6) 1 hour, 14 minutes
Week 2 Discussion Questions:
1. Qian Qian experiences the first years of her life in America through the lens of her parent’s fear. Fear of authority figures, fear of the dark, fear of other Chinese people. Discuss these fears and their legitimacy.
2. It is hard to fathom that child labor was tolerated in 1994. How does this story affect your view of immigrants working undocumented in this country?
Week 3 Recording:
https://youtu.be/m1eE_QIVSJo (Chapters 7-9) 1 hour, 7 minutes
Week 3 Discussion Questions:
1. Being satiated immediately takes Qian to a memory of eating beautiful meals with her family in China, how much does hunger affect her connection to her new country?
2. At an early age, Qian becomes what her Ma Ma needs: therapist, sounding board, and confidante. The roles of mother and daughter are switched on many occasions. How does this affect their relationship?
Week 4 Recording:
https://youtu.be/bCcCncro2QA (Chapters 10-14) 1 hour, 12 minutes
Week 4 Discussion Questions:
1. McDonald’s. This chapter presents a side of poverty that is hard to process. It is suggested that Qian’s parents allow a slovenly, predatory man access to their lives in exchange for a free meal. The thought of what Ma Ma is subjected to at work for this exchange is uneasy. How do you feel about the decision to let James into their lives?
2. We are beginning to see tiny, positive changes for Qian: finding the library, fluency in English, moving to a new place, finding a best friend. But we are also seeing some negative things for Ma Ma and Ba Ba. Their relationship seems to be deteriorating. Qian almost never refers to them as being together. Why do you think this young child feels the burden for her parents is her responsibility?
Week 5 Recording:
https://youtu.be/rIndy9Tye5U (Chapters 15-19) 1 hour, 22 minutes
Week 5 Discussion Questions:
1. Contemplating the act of suicide pushes Ma Ma to change her life. Up to this point, Ma Ma has appeared frightened and weak, but now she decides to change her future. And in the process, Qian’s. Discuss your thoughts on Ma Ma telling Qian “I almost jumped.” It seems an incredible burden for a young child.
2. At age nine, Qian decides to be a lawyer. Primarily because of her desire to have money. It seems like everyone around her doubts her ability to attain this goal. Did this doubt cement her decision to pursue this profession?
Week 6 Recording:
https://youtu.be/kyTFN2Kz2ss (Chapters 20-23) 1 hour, 28 minutes
Week 6 Discussion Questions:
1. Qian’s childish lies seem to reflect her growing feelings about what she desperately wants and needs to feel connected to her new country. And then she takes the name Julie. Her teacher makes her choose between the two names.
Why do you think she chose Qian? She obviously uses both now so how do you think she reconciled that?
2. Ma Ma’s illness, and Qian’s physical reaction to her own worries, highlight the dangers of health care for the undocumented. Discuss all the obstacles to health care: the absence of it, the danger in seeking it out, the danger in using black market health care, etc.
Week 7 Recording:
https://youtu.be/uFnLEtb2PvM (Chapters 20-27) 1 hour, 9 minutes
Week 7 Discussion Questions:
1. “…He asked fewer and fewer questions in America. Somehow, by leaving China, Ba Ba had grown more Chinese, starting to adopt our government’s silly ideas about how asking questions was bad and disrespectful. He took on the form of what America expected of us: docile, meek.” p.235 Is this accurate? Is this what America expects of immigrants? Is Ba Ba just worn down by his experience in America?
2. This exploration of how much influence teachers have over students’ emotional health is powerful. Especially poor students. Mr. Kane is infuriating in his treatment of Qian. Do you think his treatment of Qian added to her belief in the ‘bad luck’ she has brought her family? Did it contribute to her willingness to apply to the gifted school?
Week 8 Recording:
https://youtu.be/I6VV-rQF52Q (Chapter 28-the end), 56 minutes
Week 8 Discussion Questions:
1. Were you surprised that Ma Ma was the catalyst for moving to Canada instead of Ba Ba?
2. How do you think their experience in Canada was different than in America?
3. What are your takeaways from this book?