Fall on Your Knees

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Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-marie Macdonald

Knopf Canada | December 6, 1998 | Trade Paperback

4.3333 out of 5 rating. 114 Reviews
"What a wild ride - I couldn't turn the pages fast enough," Oprah Winfrey told her viewers as she announced Fall on Your Knees as her February 2002 Book Club selection. Set largely in a Cape Breton coal mining community called New Waterford, ranging through four generations, Ann-Marie MacDonald's dark, insightful and hilarious first novel focuses on the Piper sisters and their troubled relationship with their father, James. Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, it was a national bestseller in Canada for two years, and it has been translated into 17 languages.

At the start of the 20th century, James Piper sets fire to his dead mother's piano and heads out across Cape Breton Island to find a new place to live, eventually eloping with 13-year-old Materia Mahmoud, the daughter of wealthy, traditional Lebanese parents. And so, from early on, Ann-Marie MacDonald establishes some major themes: racial tension, isolation, passion and forbidden love, which will gradually lead to incest, death in childbirth, and even murder. At the centre of this epic story is the nature of family love, beginning with the Piper sister who depend on one another for survival. Their development as characters - beautiful Kathleen, the promising diva; saintly Mercedes; Frances, the mischievous bad girl, who tries to bear the family's burden; and disabled Lily, everyone's favourite - forms the heart of the novel. And then there is James, their flawed father.

Moving from Cape Breton Island to the battlefields of World War I, to Harlem in New York's Jazz Age and the Depression, the tense and enthralling plot of Fall on Your Knees contains love, pain, death, joy, and triumph. The structure of the narrative is multi-faceted, richly layered, and shifts back and forth through time as it approaches the story from different angles, "giving it a mythic quality that allows dark, half buried secrets to be gracefully and chillingly revealed" (The New York Times Book Review). As the details of the labyrinthine plot are pulled together, the question of whether it is possible to escape one's family history gradually raises itself.

The book's epigraph, taken from Wuthering Heights, seems appropriate to a novel concerned with the different, often violent, forms that love can take. On the inexorable journey towards tragedy we encounter dark yet vivid images of neglect and violence, yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, and yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, shimmering with emotional depth, sensual with virtuoso descriptions of the power of music. It is a saga haunted by ghosts and saints, religious fanaticism and magic. MacDonald gives the most ordinary lives extraordinarily dramatic dimensions.

The Sunday Times wrote, "It is the unpredictability of this huge book that is its greatest joy." With allusions ranging from Hollywood stars to religious tracts, Fall on Your Knees simmers with vibrancy and crackling, effervescent, breathtaking language.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 576 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 1.18 in

Published: December 6, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0394281780

ISBN - 13: 9780394281780

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

– More About This Product –

Fall on Your Knees

Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-marie Macdonald

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 576 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 1.18 in

Published: December 6, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0394281780

ISBN - 13: 9780394281780

Read from the Book

Silent Pictures They''re all dead now. Here''s a picture of the town where they lived. New Waterford. It''s a night bright with the moon. Imagine you are looking down from the height of a church steeple, onto the vivid gradations of light and shadow that make the picture. A small mining town near cutaway cliffs that curve over narrow rock beaches below, where the silver sea rolls and rolls, flattering the moon. Not many trees, thin grass. The silhouette of a colliery, iron tower against a slim pewter sky with cables and supports sloping at forty-five-degree angles to the ground. Railway tracks that stretch only a short distance from the base of a gorgeous high slant of glinting coal, towards an archway in the earth where the tracks slope in and down and disappear. And spreading away from the collieries and coal heaps are the peaked roofs of the miners'' houses built row on row by the coal company. Company houses. Company town. Look down over the street where they lived. Water Street. An avenue of packed dust and scattered stones that leads out past the edge of town to where the wide, keeling graveyard overlooks the ocean. That sighing sound is just the sea. Here''s a picture of their house as it was then. White, wood frame with the covered veranda. It''s big compared to the miners'' houses. There''s a piano in the front room. In the back is the kitchen where Mumma died. Here''s a picture of her the day she died. She had a stroke while cleaning the oven. Which is how the docto
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From the Publisher

"What a wild ride - I couldn't turn the pages fast enough," Oprah Winfrey told her viewers as she announced Fall on Your Knees as her February 2002 Book Club selection. Set largely in a Cape Breton coal mining community called New Waterford, ranging through four generations, Ann-Marie MacDonald's dark, insightful and hilarious first novel focuses on the Piper sisters and their troubled relationship with their father, James. Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, it was a national bestseller in Canada for two years, and it has been translated into 17 languages.

At the start of the 20th century, James Piper sets fire to his dead mother's piano and heads out across Cape Breton Island to find a new place to live, eventually eloping with 13-year-old Materia Mahmoud, the daughter of wealthy, traditional Lebanese parents. And so, from early on, Ann-Marie MacDonald establishes some major themes: racial tension, isolation, passion and forbidden love, which will gradually lead to incest, death in childbirth, and even murder. At the centre of this epic story is the nature of family love, beginning with the Piper sister who depend on one another for survival. Their development as characters - beautiful Kathleen, the promising diva; saintly Mercedes; Frances, the mischievous bad girl, who tries to bear the family's burden; and disabled Lily, everyone's favourite - forms the heart of the novel. And then there is James, their flawed father.

Moving from Cape Breton Island to the battlefields of World War I, to Harlem in New York's Jazz Age and the Depression, the tense and enthralling plot of Fall on Your Knees contains love, pain, death, joy, and triumph. The structure of the narrative is multi-faceted, richly layered, and shifts back and forth through time as it approaches the story from different angles, "giving it a mythic quality that allows dark, half buried secrets to be gracefully and chillingly revealed" (The New York Times Book Review). As the details of the labyrinthine plot are pulled together, the question of whether it is possible to escape one's family history gradually raises itself.

The book's epigraph, taken from Wuthering Heights, seems appropriate to a novel concerned with the different, often violent, forms that love can take. On the inexorable journey towards tragedy we encounter dark yet vivid images of neglect and violence, yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, and yet the novel radiates an unquenchable life-force, shimmering with emotional depth, sensual with virtuoso descriptions of the power of music. It is a saga haunted by ghosts and saints, religious fanaticism and magic. MacDonald gives the most ordinary lives extraordinarily dramatic dimensions.

The Sunday Times wrote, "It is the unpredictability of this huge book that is its greatest joy." With allusions ranging from Hollywood stars to religious tracts, Fall on Your Knees simmers with vibrancy and crackling, effervescent, breathtaking language.

About the Author

Ann-Marie MacDonald was born in West Germany and spent the first few years of her life on a Canadian air force station near Baden Baden. Her father was an officer in the RCAF and the family was posted numerous times. She attended one year at Carleton University, Ottawa, studying languages and Classics. She went to the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal where she trained as an actor, graduating from the program in 1980. She moved to Toronto where she began an acting career. She soon became involved in creating original Canadian work in a number of contexts: collective creation, collaboration and solo writing. The work always combined theatrical innovation, politics and entertainment. She worked as an independent artist, with Nightwood Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille as her principal theatre “homes.” Her seminal works include the collective creation This is For You, Anna , and the multi-episodic Nancy Drew: Clue in the Fast Lane . Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) was MacDonald’s first solo-authored work. She continued to work as an actor in theatres across the country and in many independent films, including I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing , Where the Spirit Lives and Better Than Chocolate . As well, she guest-starred on numerous television series, most recently Made in Canada . MacDonald was last on stage in the spring of 2001 when she starred in a sold-out production of Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) at the Bluma Appel
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Author Interviews

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I became a writer through the theatre. As an actor I started collaborating-writing shows collectively until I started writing plays on my own. Then I wrote a book. I started writing it as a play until I got stuck and realized a play was the wrong form.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
No, I like stories.

3) What is the major theme in this book?
One theme is diversity and truth struggling its way to the surface.

4) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?
I love them all equally.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
Have a drink. Enjoy. Yell.

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?
There was a Vietnam veteran in a suburb of Minneapolis who had not read the book. But then he agreed informally to be interviewed by me about his war time experiences.

7) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
Charlotte Bronte, The Beatles, Northrope Frye. I love authors and books but I get influenced by life.

From Our Editors

Ann-Marie MacDonald's heroine, Frances Piper, joins Margaret Laurence's Hagar Shipley and Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne as one of the most fascinating and multifaceted female characters in Canadian fiction. This epic novel was the winner of the Commonwealth Prize for Best First Novel and the Globe and Mail Editors' Choice and Notable Book of the Year Award. Fall On Your Knees is a complex narrative about family secrets and the deeply buried events, memories and motivations behind human relationships. It was also shortlisted for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award.

Editorial Reviews

"Magnetic… a dizzying leap into a mind so rich and complex you spend almost as much time marvelling how she got there as enjoying the results… Compelling and original… MacDonald succeeds brilliantly in building a world that, at least for the satisfying length of time it takes to finish Fall On Your Knees , gloriously supersedes all else." — Financial Post "Beautiful… this big, bold, epic shocker of a novel reads as if John Irving met Joyce Carol Oates. It is history told with a thumping, complex narrative… a host of colourful characters and a great big bow to psychology… Fall On Your Knees is the work of a big talent. It''s a wild ride." — Chicago Tribune "[MacDonald is] a first-rate novelist.... [She] paints a Cape Breton landscape steeped in human emotion ... She has found the language of the heart that runs below everyday discourse.... There is no resisting this story." — The Globe and Mail "Ann-Marie MacDonald — one of Canada''s most talented actors and playwrights — has provided us with yet another aspect of a talent that has no limits." —Timothy Findley "Brilliant... Profoundly and refreshingly different.... MacDonald has constructed a plot worthy of Victor Hugo... A standout." — Vancouver Sun "MacDonald is a master of exciting story-telling, of suspense and surprise." — The Montreal Gazette "... a narrative presence that c
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Bookclub Guide

1. A cedar box, a diary, a green dress, a scarecrow - examine MacDonald''s use of repeated imagery in her exploration of family history. Are her interpretations of memory intended to be naturalistic? How does this square with her use of the spiritual life in this novel? What, for example, does Ambrose ''mean'' to Lily and Francis, and why does Pete haunt Kathleen?

2. Examine your sympathies with the family members of this book. Does the author manipulate or confuse the alliances of the reader? How does she handle revelation? Try to define the way in which the narrator relates to the reader. The internal logic of the book is also defined by the ways in which the characters ''decide'' to interpret each others'' behaviour - are you surprised by the shifts in allegiance throughout the book - where does the force for these changes come from?

3. ''That night, the Virgin Mary tells her what to do.'' (p.561) Could you have predicted the course of Mercedes'' life? What do you take MacDonald to mean in her use of religion to shape Mercedes, and what do you understand about Mercedes from the ways in which she chooses to respond to events? How closely do the sisters mirror each others'' behaviour?

4. ''The knowledge that it is to be a coloured child is most useful in determining its future. First of all, there is now no question of keeping it. Illegitimacy is a terrible but invisible blot, whereas miscegenation cannot be concealed.'' (p.393) The book addresses several major themes of conflict in the 20th Century - racial strife and inequality, sexuality, religious oppression and belief, poverty. Is MacDonald successful in her integration of such powerful topics into this intimate family history? What methods does she use to sustain the pace of the narrative throughout the 560-odd pages of the book? Some of the revelations of the character make for uncomfortable reading - is the author consciously trying to alienate the reader, shock them? If so, is she successful, and why do you think she adopted this approach?

5. ''Frances''s eyes burst open. She had a dream about Trixie just now.'' (p.373) As a plot device, what function does Trixie serve?

6. Frances manifests a particularly brittle variety of humour and resilience. Compare her responses to ''damage'' with those of her sisters, mother and father. What do you consider Frances''s principal motivations to be, and to what use has the author put these, in her construction of this book? What do you consider the author intends us to understand from her use of illness and affliction in this book?

7. How do you interpret the ''visions'' and ''intuition'' of the sisters towards each other? What do you consider MacDonald is interested in exploring by this added dimension to the story? Do you think our understanding of the personal histories is intended to change our perception of the ''public'' record of War history in Fall On Your Knees? Which characters constitute the most obvious links between the private and public?

8. ''The cave mind has entered into a creative collaboration with the voluntary mind, and soon the two of them will cocoon memory in a spinning wealth of dreams and yarns and fingerpaintings.'' (p.151) Memory and its reinvention are central to the sisters'' survival techniques in the book; how does the structure of the book assist in our understanding of this?

9. Do the histories, for example, of prohibition, or the miners strikes, serve as functional plot devices or as a metaphor?

10. How precisely imagined is this book? How important is this in the revelation of plot? Consider the book in relation to linear time. How much is this book about Kathleen''s history, and how does our understanding of the circumstances of her life reflect on our reading of other characters?

11. Compare the symbolism of this book with the magic realism of Rushdie or Márquez. How does your understanding of ''magic realism'' inform your reading of this work, if at all?

12. Consider the roles of Mrs. and Ralph Luvovitz, Leo Taylor, Theresa, Hector and Adelaide, and what light their interior life sheds on that of the Pipers. How does Frances compare with Theresa? Attempt to describe the relationship between the two. Which characters do you consider to be least successful in the story?

13. What do you take the meaning of the title of the book to be? How do the chapter headings, along with the quotes and passages that preface each section of the book serve to enhance your reading?

14. ''Frances has recently revealed a natural talent in the kitchen. She cooks and cooks. Roasts and curries, stews and casseroles. It''s mystifying. Frances is like one of those strange persons who awake one morning and play the complete works of Bach with never a lesson.'' (p.429) Discuss the roles of books, clothes, music and food in Fall On Your Knees. How many central themes are explored using these symbols?

15. Do you think that the ''real'' aspects of the novel - MacDonald''s powerful evocation of the trenches, for example - change the way in which we view the fictional lives she explores? Does the juxtaposition of ''known'' history give more weight to the author''s intent?

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