ASTONISH ME

Maggie Shipstead

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut

novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan

Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book

Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely

compelling glimpse into the passionate, political

world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold

over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a

ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the worldfamous

dancer Arslan Rusakov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet

Union to the United States.

more …

From the author of the widely acclaimed debut

novel Seating Arrangements, winner of the Dylan

Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book

Prize for First Fiction: a gorgeously written, fiercely

compelling glimpse into the passionate, political

world of professional ballet and its magnetic hold

over two generations.

Astonish Me is the irresistible story of Joan, a

ballerina whose life has been shaped by her relationship with the worldfamous

dancer Arslan Rusakov, whom she helps defect from the Soviet

Union to the United States. While Arslan’s career takes off in New York,

Joan’s slowly declines, ending when she becomes pregnant and decides to

marry her longtime admirer, a PhD student named Jacob. As the years pass,

Joan settles into her new life in California, teaching dance and watching

her son, Harry, become a ballet prodigy himself. But when Harry’s success

brings him into close contact with Arslan, explosive secrets are revealed

that shatter the delicate balance Joan has struck between her past and

present.

In graceful, inimitable prose, Shipstead draws us into an extraordinary

world and into the lives of her vivid and tempestuous characters. Filled

with intrigue, brilliant satire, and emotional nuance, Astonish Me is a

superlative follow-up to Shipstead’s superb debut.

less …
  • Vintage
  • Paperback
  • January 2015
  • 272 Pages
  • 9780345804617

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About Maggie Shipstead

Maggie Shipstead is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’

Workshop and a former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.

Her first novel, Seating Arrangements, was a New York Times best seller, a

finalist for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and the winner of the

Dylan Thomas Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction.

Praise

“So dazzling, so sure-handed and fearless, that at times I had to remind myself

to breathe.”—Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette

“A novel you must read.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“A breathtaking work of art.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Precise . . . Flawless . . . Transcendent.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR

Discussion Questions

What does “Astonish me” mean, as a metaphor in the novel?

Who is the main character? Is that person also the hero?

Shipstead skips forward and backward in time

throughout the novel. How does she use these leaps to

fill in the story?

“Elaine ingests a steady but restricted diet of cocaine without apparent

consequence. The key, she has said to Joan, is control. Control is the

key to everything.” (page 8) What does Elaine mean by “control”?

Which characters in the novel lose control, and to what effect?

And how does the perfectionism required of ballet dancers play into

intent and control?

Is Joan’s aggressive pursuit of Arslan out of character for her? Why

does she do it?

Throughout the novel, characters wonder why Arslan chose Joan to

help him defect. Why do you think he chose her?

How does Sandy shape her daughter’s future? What effect does her

behavior at Disneyland have?

“I think things can be true even if they didn’t really happen,” Jacob says

on page 144. What does he mean by this? How does it play out in his

family’s life?

Jacob adored Joan from childhood; Harry adored Chloe from

childhood. How else does the younger generation resemble the older

one? How do they differ?

Why do Harry’s feelings for Chloe change?

What does “parent” mean, in terms of the novel? Which characters

make good parents?

What is the metaphor of Emma Livry, the ballet dancer whose tutu

catches fire?

What does Rodina, the title of Arslan and Chloe’s ballet, mean? (In

Russia, it refers to “motherland.”)

Do you think Jacob decides to stay through the end of the performance?