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The Silence of Trees Listen-A-Long Discussion

Welcome to my first audiobook listen-a-long! Today we will be discussing The Silence of Trees by Valya Dudycz Lupescu and published by Wolfsword Press. This novel begins Nadya, the main character, in the Ukraine during World War II. It then alternates to Nadya as an elderly woman living in Chicago with her husband and family. I announced the listen-a-long in April and am glad this day has finally arrived.

Here are the pertinent details about the audiobook:

Audiobook Publisher: Iambik Audiobooks

Narrator: Xe Sands

Audiobook Length: 9 hours and 58 seconds

If you haven’t listened to this audiobook and would like to, you can purchase a digital download for just $6.99. Through the end of today (5/3), you can also download the Kindle version of this book for free (this offer is no longer available) I thank the eBook for helping me spell some of the words I needed for my questions below. Thank you, Wolfsword Press!

The Silence of Trees Discussion Questions

Please feel to answer any of the questions that you’d like. Do not feel obligated to answer them all. If there is something you’d like to discuss that isn’t found in these questions, please do ask in the comments.

  • Let’s talk first about the story itself. What were your overall impressions? Did you have a favorite passage or section? Was there anything that didn’t work as well for you?
  • Nadya is an interesting character. She is forced to make many life-altering decisions alone and at an early age. How did you feel about the decisions she made after visiting the vorozhka? Had she made other decisions, how do you think her life would be different? Would it have been better?
  • The customs, stories, and superstitions from Nadya’s life in the Ukraine are very important throughout the novel. I particularly loved the section about painting the pysanka.  Did you have a favorite custom or story from the book? Why is it that Nadya places importance on these stories and spirits such as the domovyk into her old age?
  • When Nadya and Pavlo’s granddaughter announces that she’s dating a German man they are enraged and hurt. They raised their children in the traditions of the Ukraine and don’t understand why any family of theirs would want to be linked to someone whose grandparents murdered their families. How much do children and grandchildren owe those who have gone before them? Is there something to be said for carrying on family traditions for their own sake?
  • Xe Sands narrates The Silence of Trees. How was your experience with her as narrator? Did her style and accents work well for you?
  • Did any of the novel’s theme or scenes stay with you after you finished?
  • Would you be interested in another listen-a-long? If so, is there anything I could do differently to make it a better experience?

Thanks to everyone who listened to this book with me. I am looking forward to the discussion!

Update: The comments will contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

18 Comments

  • At 2012.05.03 10:50, Literate Housewife said:

    Here are my responses. I want to make sure to cover as much as possible, but boy do I ask a lot of questions!!!!

    Let’s talk first about the story itself. What were your overall impressions? Did you have a favorite passage or section? Was there anything that didn’t work as well for you?

    I enjoyed The Silence of Trees. I wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but I found the story engaging and I loved the pieces of Ukrainian culture and folklore. I especially loved the scene where the women were making the pysanka. I have got to give that a try sometime. It would probably turn out to be a hot mess, but I like the idea of creating little pieces of art. I also liked the Chicago setting for the modern sections in the novel. Chicago is such a wonderful city of blended cultures. I could see Nadya and Pavlo finding a group of fellow Ukrainians and making it a home for their family.

    Although I enjoyed the book, there were sections of the story that seemed just a too earnest to me. I’m not sure how else to describe it. There was plenty of genuine emotion in the book and there was just something about certain scenes where it seemed unnaturally amplified. I felt this the most in scenes concerning Pavlo. It brought me out of the story from time to time, but it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book.

    Nadya is an interesting character. She is forced to make many life-altering decisions alone and at an early age. How did you feel about the decisions she made after visiting the vorozhka? Had she made other decisions, how do you think her life would be different? Would it have been better?

    Could the war and it’s impact on her family and Stephan have happened at a more crucial time for Nadya? She survived surprisingly well. I definitely would have made different choices than she did, though. I couldn’t figure out what in her character would make her chose Pavlo over Andriy. I can understand her being unsure of Mamma Polotsky’s son before she met him. After Pavlo had beaten her, though? I guess it must be scary to be all alone and pregnant. I wish she’s jumped at Andriy’s offer to marry her. I wished she’d changed her mind after the abortion (which was such a sad, sad scene). Her life with Pavlo was not as horrific as it could have been. He stopped hitting her after that night in Germany, but it was always between them. There is no way to tell how her life would have turned out if she’d waited in the Ukraine for Stephan to come back or if she married Andriy. She definitely was a woman who made the best of her life, even if she kept her heartaches locked up inside.

    The customs, stories, and superstitions from Nadya’s life in the Ukraine are very important throughout the novel. I particularly loved the section about painting the pysanka. Did you have a favorite custom or story from the book? Why is it that Nadya places importance on these stories and spirits such as the domovyk into her old age?

    The pysanka was most definitely my favorite tradition in the book. If you Google pysanka, you will see some amazing images. They can be so gorgeous. I think that Nadya relies on the stories and traditions of her youth because it keeps her grounded. A large part of who she is is where she came from. Such a rich culture. While to her grandchildren it can seem like a burden, as someone who grew up without that level of tradition, I was honestly jealous. “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much!” only goes so far. LOL!

    These spirits and stories seem to be a way of expressing emotions? People want to keep their houses feeling like home. If and when the time comes that it doesn’t, saying that the domovyk has left seems to really be a way of expressing the emptiness you feel in your heart.

    When Nadya and Pavlo’s granddaughter announces that she’s dating a German man they are enraged and hurt. They raised their children in the traditions of the Ukraine and don’t understand why any family of theirs would want to be linked to someone whose grandparents murdered their families. How much do children and grandchildren owe those who have gone before them? Is there something to be said for carrying on family traditions for their own sake?

    When I traveled to Germany in 1997, I was able to take a tour of Dachau. It was a haunting experience, especially knowing that it was one of the more mild concentration camps. After the tour, we were invited as a group to have a discussion about what we’d seen. One of the questions that was asked was what responsibility modern Germans had as a result of what happened in World War II. My answer, which was admittedly naive, was that those born after WWII didn’t have any more responsibility than anyone else born anywhere else. I discovered quickly that I was the only one there who felt that way. I was embarrased and wished that I hadn’t spoken up, but I learned a lot as a result. I hadn’t been thinking about issues such as reparations and working toward developing a culture of acceptance. Changing your culture is hard work. Americans have our own issues with civil rights. So, when your family comes out from under a horrific experience like what happened in the Ukraine, how do you come to grips with people whose grandparents killed your great grandparents? I could see why Nadya and Pavlo were so upset. Likewise, I could see where Lesya felt that her boyfriend should be accepted for who he is as a person in his own right. I don’t think there are any easy answers to that question.

    Xe Sands narrates The Silence of Trees. How was your experience with her as narrator? Did her style and accents work well for you?

    In my experience listening to Xe’s narration, she excells in the emotions of the books she reads. The Silence of Trees was no exception. I think the most memorable scene from her narration was the abortion scene. Her work made it that much more haunting. Her pronunciation of Ukrainian words sounded natural to me as well. There were a few places in the audiobook during especially emotional scenes where I had to turn up the volume to hear the story while in the car. This wasn’t an issue when I listened at home or at work with my headphones, though.

    Did any of the novel’s theme or scenes stay with you after you finished?

    Since finishing the audiobook, I’ve thought a lot about the title. I’m still trying to think that through. Nadya could often hear people she’d love in the trees they picked after death. I distinctly remember the scene where she finds her grandma’s tree. I didn’t particularly associate hearing voices in the trees as a bad thing. I’m hoping that what the title conveys is that Nadya had finally found a place where she could put her ghosts to bed. That the trees were silent meant that she had found a peace of her own.

    • At 2012.05.03 11:59, BeckyK said:

      I’m keeping this short and just answering the first question. My favorite passage was the opening where Nadya sneaks out in the dangerous dark to meet a fortune-teller. The details of the Gypsy dancing, her costume, the sounds and smells, all of it have haunted me since I first read the excerpt back when Valya had “The Silence of Trees” entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and I only got to read 5,000 words. This is one of the BEST openings I’ve ever read — and I’ve read many. I still go back and read that first chapter just because it takes me to a place I’ve never been which always fascinated me.

      • At 2012.05.03 13:43, Literate Housewife said:

        Funny you should mention that. I first became interested in listening to this book after hearing that first clip. It most certainly drew me in.

        • At 2012.05.03 13:54, MissSusie said:

          it’s funny when I finished I was so tempted to just push play again and start it all over agin!

        • At 2012.05.03 12:37, MissSusie said:

          • Let’s talk first about the story itself. What were your overall impressions? Did you have a favorite passage or section? Was there anything that didn’t work as well for you?

          I so enjoyed this story so much, I think my favorite thing was all the traditions and superstitions. It was written so beautifully that it was very hard to turn off I just wanted to keep listening.

          • Nadya is an interesting character. She is forced to make many life-altering decisions alone and at an early age. How did you feel about the decisions she made after visiting the vorozhka? Had she made other decisions, how do you think her life would be different? Would it have been better?

          Yes some of the decisions Nadya made were probably not decisions I would have made but who knows I have never lived in those conditions. Honestly my feeling towards Pavlov were the ones that disconcerted me more than my feeling towards Nadya I so wanted to hate him in the beginning then with each revelation of how he changed and grew as person I didn’t know how to feel about him. There was quite a few times my heart broke for Nadya and that just made me love her more! In my review I said this about Nadya-
          Oh Nadya I just want to hug you and tell you to let things go, explain your life to your children let them really know you and allow yourself to be happy!

          • The customs, stories, and superstitions from Nadya’s life in the Ukraine are very important throughout the novel. I particularly loved the section about painting the pysanka. Did you have a favorite custom or story from the book? Why is it that Nadya places importance on these stories and spirits such as the domovyk into her old age?

          These customs/superstitions were so important to the story I was fascinated with them. I too loved the pysanka and infact we made them when I was in elementary school living close to the Czechoslovakian- East Berlin border and I’ve always remembered it. What I loved about the customs in this book and it made me want to do research to incorporate some of these into my own holidays especially the parts about honoring your ancestors it was so beautiful!

          • When Nadya and Pavlo’s granddaughter announces that she’s dating a German man they are enraged and hurt. They raised their children in the traditions of the Ukraine and don’t understand why any family of theirs would want to be linked to someone whose grandparents murdered their families. How much do children and grandchildren owe those who have gone before them? Is there something to be said for carrying on family traditions for their own sake?

          I have to agree with you Jennifer I too have visited Dachau and though we should never forget the awful things that were done I also think it is best to forgive. Carrying on family traditions is one thing but carrying the hatred is another thing all together.

          • Xe Sands narrates The Silence of Trees. How was your experience with her as narrator? Did her style and accents work well for you?

          This book evoked such emotion and the narration by Xe Sands brought those emotions through beautifully, the combination of Valya’s writing and Xe’s narration is so great both story and narration are lyrical. Xe’s soft delivery lends beautifully to the written word.

          • Did any of the novel’s theme or scenes stay with you after you finished?

          Oh yes, I had a hard time reading my next book because Nadya stayed on my mind for a long time!

          • Would you be interested in another listen-a-long? If so, is there anything I could do differently to make it a better experience?

          Yes I would , the only thing I would say would be since you are leading the discussion let us know the date you will be listening because I finished so far ahead we were able to discuss it as I was listening.

          I loved your take on the title and I was thinking along the same lines that the Trees and Nadya are finally at peace.

          • At 2012.05.03 13:47, Literate Housewife said:

            Thanks so much for your suggestions for another listen-a-long. I completely agree that listening together would have made this much better.

            Wasn’t Dachau an incredible experience? I know that short visit has enhanced my reading of fiction about WWII.

            • At 2012.05.03 13:51, MissSusie said:

              Oh yes the memory of Dachau has stayed with me my whole life!

              • At 2012.05.03 22:44, Literate Housewife said:

                Oh, and your point about Pavlo is right on target! He did grow and become a better person, but I so wanted Nadya not to have to work for anything like that, you know?

          • At 2012.05.03 12:40, MissSusie said:

            Oops that should say we weren’t able to discuss while I was listening.

            • At 2012.05.03 13:55, Sam M-B said:

              I discovered this book via your blog (and trolling the Iambik sf listings of course), and while I’m quite glad that I did — Sands’s nuanced and emotional reading; Ukrainian history and folklore; inhabiting the familiar neighborhoods of Chicago — it was not quite the novel I expected. It’s labeled as sf in Iambik’s catalog, with some magical realism overtones, but the novel reads for me quite perfectly well as mimetic fiction, with some dreams, stress-induced hallucinations, and (perhaps) age-related dementia creeping in the corners late in the book. It’s a wonderful, painful, lovely portrait of an elderly Ukrainian woman, reflecting back upon a long life filled with death, hardships, loves, and (most of all) family, the traditions, the painful past.

              I’m not sure if we’re really ready for full-on spoiler material or not, but the two scenes which have most stuck with me are Nadya tossing her long-kept stone into Lake Michigan, and the reveal that Pavlo had indeed hid her sister’s letter, denying Nadya the chance to say goodbye to her first love — the internal dialogue in Nadya’s head (or, if you prefer the magical realism interpretation, the actual haunting presence of Pavlo) revealing that he had known about the abortion. Powerful, emotional scenes which Sands really evoked well.

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              • At 2012.05.03 22:49, Literate Housewife said:

                I was not paying any attention to how Iambik had it listed, but it definitely doesn’t fit the sci-fi category at all. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this book anyway.

                I think that spoilers are fine at this point. I’ll update the post proper to indicate that spoilers will be found in the comments. There definitely is something special about getting rid of an object that represents something so much bigger. I remember going on a retreat in high school and the leader had us write down anything and everything that we were ashamed of, felt bad about, or just bothered us. We then gathered around a camp fire, said a prayer, and burned those papers. I’ve never felt so clean as I did after my letter burned. I might just have to do that again now that I think about it! I agree that that scene was very memorable.

                • At 2012.05.03 23:01, Literate Housewife said:

                  I also meant to say that sci-fi is out of my comfort zone, but I’d love to give a great sci-fi read a try. How about planning a sci-fi listen-a-long for this summer?

                • At 2012.05.03 13:57, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

                  Let’s talk first about the story itself. What were your overall impressions? Did you have a favorite passage or section? Was there anything that didn’t work as well for you?
                  Lupescu did a really good job weaving together the past and the present, everything about the book just fit and flowed and worked.

                  Nadya is an interesting character. She is forced to make many life-altering decisions alone and at an early age. How did you feel about the decisions she made after visiting the vorozhka? Had she made other decisions, how do you think her life would be different? Would it have been better?
                  Although there were times I wished she’d made different decisions, I couldn’t imagine her in the present with out the children and grandchildren she had around her, and I ended up being very happy with the decisions she made, other than I wish she and Pavlo had communicated better earlier.

                  The customs, stories, and superstitions from Nadya’s life in the Ukraine are very important throughout the novel. I particularly loved the section about painting the pysanka. Did you have a favorite custom or story from the book? Why is it that Nadya places importance on these stories and spirits such as the domovyk into her old age?
                  I loved the section on the pysanka! I think that remaining connected to the customs of her homeland, even though she never returned, was important to her as a way to stay connected to them.

                  When Nadya and Pavlo’s granddaughter announces that she’s dating a German man they are enraged and hurt. They raised their children in the traditions of the Ukraine and don’t understand why any family of theirs would want to be linked to someone whose grandparents murdered their families. How much do children and grandchildren owe those who have gone before them? Is there something to be said for carrying on family traditions for their own sake?
                  I totally understand where they were coming from, but it is unrealistic on a couple of levels, first to continue visiting the sins of the (grand)father upon the (grand)son, and second to expect that once you are in a different country that all of your heirs will forever only marry people who were from your home country. The more assimilation happens, the less likely that becomes. It doesn’t mean that the Ukrainian traditions can’t be continued, but realistically they’ll probably stop or become watered down eventually, as future generations have less and less ties to the homeland.

                  Xe Sands narrates The Silence of Trees. How was your experience with her as narrator? Did her style and accents work well for you?
                  It always takes me a little while to adjust to Xe’s style when I listen to her, because her voice is much wispier and more ethereal than most narrators I listen to (spooky ghost story next, please!), but I was impressed with her range of voices and accents in The Silence of Trees, and with the emotion she put into it.

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                  • At 2012.05.03 22:58, Literate Housewife said:

                    It would be hard to imagine Nadya without her children and grandchildren. You’re right about that. As her story in the camp is being told, though, I begged and begged her not to go with Pavlo (although I knew that she did). I’m glad that he grew over time, even if they never did talk as much as they should. I think the responsibility for that lies just as much on Nadya’s shoulders as it does on his.

                    I think that the longer we’re parents and the further we are from being young, the more we forget how we all typically follow our own paths. Maybe that is even more true for those who experience such horrible things early in their life. They never had the easy freedom people in our generation grew up with. I think they’re anger and hurt worked well with the story because of who they are, but you’re absolutely right about it being impractical to believe your children and grandchildren will marry no different in the United States as they would in the Ukraine.

                    I totally agree that Xe + spooky ghost story = excellent listen. We need to somehow make that happen!

                  • At 2012.05.04 02:45, papercuts1 said:

                    Let’s talk first about the story itself. What were your overall impressions? Did you have a favorite passage or section? Was there anything that didn’t work as well for you?

                    I’d been attracted to the audiobook via Xe Sands’ tweets. There was a sense of hauntedness, of beauty to the quotes that immediately pulled me in. A captivating quality that lingered even after finishing the audiobook.
                    The structure of the story – reaching back and forth between past and present, Europe and America, gave me the layeredness that I love in a great book. Depth. The story felt like a quilt being sewn together, piece by piece. Often, with its embedded tales and myths, I felt reminded of ‘The Tiger’s Wife’, which was a book I liked a lot.
                    My favorite passages were Nadya’s conversations with Lessya. On the one hand, they reminded me so much of my own conversations with MY grandmother. On the other hand, these two women, both very smart and sensitive, are such a wonderful fusion of past and present and, through the issue of Lessya’s boyfriend, take a big leap of faith together. They each learn from each other.

                    Nadya is an interesting character. She is forced to make many life-altering decisions alone and at an early age. How did you feel about the decisions she made after visiting the vorozhka? Had she made other decisions, how do you think her life would be different? Would it have been better?

                    Something I could never quite grasp was Nadya’s decision to marry Pavlo after he hit her. I was infuriated! All of her other hard decisions are based on her feeling of responsibility for her family, for the safety of the ones dear to her. But Pavlo? He certainly had attractive features early on, too, and by being one of the most enigmatic and conflicted characters, he’s also one of the most interesting ones in the book. But he has violent ghosts, and I couldn’t help thinking that Andriy, right away, would have been the far better choice. But of course – speculation.

                    The customs, stories, and superstitions from Nadya’s life in the Ukraine are very important throughout the novel. I particularly loved the section about painting the pysanka. Did you have a favorite custom or story from the book? Why is it that Nadya places importance on these stories and spirits such as the domovyk into her old age?

                    The domovyks were my favorite part of Nadya’s Ukrainian culture. The thought of the ‘heart’ of ones home being off-balance and being able to restore it through rituals and rites appealed to me a lot. There is a wonderful connection between bringing one’s home and one’s life in order reflected in the domovyks.

                    When Nadya and Pavlo’s granddaughter announces that she’s dating a German man they are enraged and hurt. They raised their children in the traditions of the Ukraine and don’t understand why any family of theirs would want to be linked to someone whose grandparents murdered their families. How much do children and grandchildren owe those who have gone before them? Is there something to be said for carrying on family traditions for their own sake?

                    Being German myself, this is one of the crucial questions for me, in this book as well as in real life. I’m going to come back and address this issue later. An answer that can’t be rushed.

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                    • At 2012.05.04 08:30, Sheila (Book Journey) said:

                      How did I miss this? A listen a long? I have to watch if you do this again… I totally missed out! What a great idea!

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                      • At 2012.05.11 14:36, Xe Sands said:

                        Just wanted to pop in and express my gratitude to all of you for joining me for this journey through Valya’s beautiful and heartbreaking book. I simply cannot wait to read whatever she comes out with next.

                        Now that you’ve all read it, you might enjoy this touching post Valya wrote about her grandparents. I found that I was comparing them to Nadya and Pavlo while reading…
                        http://www.vdlupescu.com/journal/2012/01/fragments-under-glass/

                        • […] by Xe Sands (2012) for Iambik Audiobooks — I discovered this book via Literate Housewife’s Listen-A-Long campaign on her blog, and while I’m quite glad that I did — Sands’s nuanced and emotional […]

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