Discussion Questions

Ways to Disappear

by Idra Novey

  1. Ways to Disappear begins with the elusive author, Beatriz Yagoda, absconding into an almond tree. What are some of the ways in which the other central characters: Emma, Raquel, Marcos, purposefully or inadvertently, disappear in the novel?
  2. Prior to writing Ways to Disappear, Novey translated a number of leading Brazilian authors. How does the specificity of language function in this book? Did being inside Emma’s head change how you viewed translators and their role?
  3. Dissatisfied with his work life, Rocha jumps at the chance to edit what will be Beatriz’s last book. This editing means he must delete a vast majority of what she has written, without her permission, in order to make the work publishable. What did you make of his decision to take such huge liberties? Do you think an editor, or a translator, has the right to make such changes?
  4. Were you surprised by the way that Emma navigated (or didn’t navigate) her relationships with Miles and Marcos? How would you describe her attitude towards marriage and her life in Pittsburgh?
  5. When Emma arrives in Beatriz’s apartment she uses Beatriz’s hairbrush and reflects that she hadn’t thought about “her author having a body.” The abstract and physical aspects of these characters collide throughout the novel, from the descriptions of the sticky heat to Marcos’ mutilated ear. How do you think physicality and the senses function within this novel, one of the central themes of which is how we understand the truth of words?
  6. Did you sympathize with Raquel’s love and anger at her mother? Were you surprised by Beatriz’s children’s unwillingness to read their mother’s writing?
  7. Beatriz’s latest novel repeats between two scenes, a sexual assault and a dinner with her husband and children. Rocha reflects on the story, thinking “the beauty of the story was the futility of it.” Only the details have been changed which each retelling. How does the inclusion of detail, in the provided definitions, and the movement between English and Brazilian, function in Ways to Disappear? Did it help or hinder your understanding of the book?
  8. Ironically, it is Beatriz’s disappearance that leads to sales for her novels increasing and people once again appreciating her legacy. Women’s fiction writing is often read as autobiography/memoir. Why do you think people are drawn to the writing of mysterious authors?
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Discussion Questions ." (Viewed on October 13, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/node/24180>.

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