THE SOUND OF BLUE

Holly Payne

Sara Foster has left America for the adventure of lifetime— teaching English to the sons and daughters of statesmen in Hungary—but her idyllic adventure instead reveals a dark world of pain and redemption when she ends up teaching in a refugee camp. Sara discovers that one of her students is a celebrated composer and soon finds herself crossing the border to his war-torn homeland, determined to exonerate him for the death of his brother.

In a journey that takes her to Dubrovnik, a magnificent stone city on the Croatian Riviera, Sara contemplates her own identity, struggling to under­stand why the region’s ancient and extraordinary beauty belies a history of grief.

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Sara Foster has left America for the adventure of lifetime— teaching English to the sons and daughters of statesmen in Hungary—but her idyllic adventure instead reveals a dark world of pain and redemption when she ends up teaching in a refugee camp. Sara discovers that one of her students is a celebrated composer and soon finds herself crossing the border to his war-torn homeland, determined to exonerate him for the death of his brother.

In a journey that takes her to Dubrovnik, a magnificent stone city on the Croatian Riviera, Sara contemplates her own identity, struggling to under­stand why the region’s ancient and extraordinary beauty belies a history of grief. As Sara unveils the secret of the composer’s escape, The Sound of Blue reveals poignant truths about the quests for refuge we all pursue.

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  • Plume Books
  • Paperback
  • 2005
  • 336 Pages
  • 9780982279755

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About Holly Payne

Holly Payne has traveled extensively throughout Turkey and Croatia and lived in southern Hungary for a year, where much of The Sound of Blue takes place. She holds an MFA from the Master of Professional Writing Program at USC and teaches screenwriting and creative writing at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

Praise

“Payne slowly reveals, secret by secret, the real stories of her characters’ shadowy pasts . . . unforgettable.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Discussion Questions

The novel begins with Sara’s startling arrival in a refugee camp where she meets a Red Cross nurse who warns her about the implications of befriending the refugees. “The minute you open your heart to a refugee, you suffer everything they have suffered and more.” How is the reverse of this warning significant to the point of the novel?

Bridges and silence function in tandem as recurring motifs and images in this story. What do the bridges of “Sokhid” (Town of Many Bridges) symbolize for the refugees and for Sara? How many ‘movie moments’ do you recall with bridges in both Sokhid and in Dubrovnik?

When Sara arrives in Croatia, she meets the director of the refugee camp. Gabor takes a liking to Sara and immediately brings her into the fold of life at the camp, trying to impress her. Why does Sara feel that she cannot accept his gifts? Why does she harbor guilt?

Gabor is a complicated character in that he is part buffoon, part villain. He is a shape shifting character who serves as both an ally and an enemy to Sara. In what ways does Gabor resent his job as the director of the refugee camp? How have the politics of post-communism Hun­gary affected his morality?

Luka, like most children his age at the brink of the war, had never seen tanks or snipers. Luka only hears of sniper nests on the radio news and mistakes snipers for birds. What is the irony of his thinking, “why somebody didn’t shoot the birds if they were so scary?”

Dubrovnik has always been known for its diplomacy and the quality of its orphanages, having established one of Europe’s first in the old town nunnery. In the novel, the nuns and monks of Dubrovnik have been searching for Luka for months, determined to capture him and offer him a place in the orphanages.  Why does Luka refuse to enter the orphanage?

Milan’s composition The Sound of Blue is an expression of civil war. Discuss the nature of the “civil war” between Milan and his half-brother, Damir. What are the eerie similarities between that conflict and the one between Sara and her cousin Mark?

Discuss the significance of Luka’s standing on the gargoyle, against the wall, in the final scene. How is the boy’s courage and faith rewarded despite the trauma he suffered?