September BookClubz Pick: A Scarcity of Condors

A Scarcity of Condors, by our very own Suanne Laqueur, was another of our BookClubz picks for September. It's the third book in the Venery Series, and you can get all three copies from our bookshop.org shop: bookshop.org/shop/dartfrogbooks.

Check out Laqueur's post-reading discussion guide below:

“This will be a saga, not a tale.”

Laqueur’s novels are known to cross genres. They are often categorized as romance, while others feel they are contemporary fiction with romantic elements. For those that indulge in neatly categorizing a novel under one label, how would you classify Condors? Dramatic historical fiction? Family saga? Contemporary fiction? Literary fiction? LGBT?

LOVE

“The history of mankind is like one big love story.”

Discuss how as young, closeted gay men, Jude and Feno suffer dire consequences within the Vancouver ex-pat community, and how those consequences shape their adult lives. How even accepted by his family, Jude is slow to come out in college and his experience being the victim of a hate crime affects his decision to track down his biological family.

Discuss Cleon and Penny’s lifetime love, mature love surviving unspeakable horrors, enduring the ebbs and flows of passion. How they opened their home in Chile to Ysidro and Tatan. How they raised their children with a strong sense of family identity, only to have their bond tested when they learn Jude is not theirs.

At one of the most defining moments in his life, Jude meets Tej. Their distracted ‘meet cute’ is surreal and far outside the realm of possibilities for Jude. Especially at that confusing time. And yet, there is an undeniable connection that Jude hesitates to trust.

Tej is not, as Jude admits readily, his type. Are they are kindred spirits? Where do their experiences as refugees and gay men overlap and where do they diverge? What does each man learn from the relationship? What does each learn from the other?

HISTORICAL FICTION

The story is anchored by the historical events surrounding the 1973 coup Chile, focusing on the events and aftermath of Pinochet’s reign of terror, the tales of harrowing escape from the country, and the fate of Los Desaparecidos – the Disappeared Ones.

Were you at all aware of this time in world history?  What was it like to read Cleon’s story of imprisonment, torture and his ultimate means to survive? 

Discuss the way the human mind copes with severe trauma in the course of the novel:

Art. Music. Memory palaces. 

“Thou shalt survive.”

“Stell dir vor.”

“Louis made ten, I could make but one.”

“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” 

The triggers that remain embedded in our self-conscious—a song, the sound of thunder, uniformed authorities, chocolate…

WRITING STYLE

The novel contains three POVs—alternating between Jude and Penny in the present and Cleon in the past. Did you think this technique worked for the subject matter? Was it effective story telling or too confusing? Was there a POV you wish had been included?

MENTAL HEALTH

Mental health issues abound in the novel—from Cleon’s struggle with severe PTSD to Jude’s relationship with his long-time therapist, Phil. The subject isn’t taboo or hidden. Each character has their own unique journey to recovery: 

Jude: a relationship with Phil which spans most of his adult life.  

Cleon:  Medication, the collecting and retelling of testimonies of other survivors, and finally, the cathartic installment of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

Penny: Self-care, taking to one’s bed, seeking institutional care.

Tej: Creating a false memory of a dog to cope with the horrific experience of his sister’s death.  Later, Cleon knows instinctually that Tej will understand his story and the expression of it through art, because of Tej’s own childhood trauma in the Lebanese Civil War.

FAMILY

“One of these things is not like the other.” 

“The beggarly question of parentage – what is it after all? What does it matter, when you come to think of it, whether a child is yours by blood or not?”

DNA. We’ve all seen the commercials, perhaps entertained the idea of tracing our ancestry.  But what if you discover a secret? Does it change anything? Some things? Everything? 

Gauge Jude’s initial reaction to the first DNA test that shows odd results. And his reaction to the second test where it’s clear he is not his parents’ child. How would you act or feel in his situation? Or if you were in Penny and Cleon’s? 

“And. Dot-dot-dot. Who do I want to be now?” After his search to find his roots, and the resulting discoveries, did you believe it would change the Tholet family dynamic? For better or worse?

Discuss the themes of “traditional” and “non-traditional” family units. How “family is so much more than blood.”

The Tholets and Lark-Pendas make a conscious choice to combine their families and make the journey back to Chile together. Did you find the introduction of this additional family unit overwhelming? Or did it bring a sense of closure?

The journey back to Chile is both memory and memorial. Visiting personal spots that are important to individual characters, then traveling as a group to the various museums and exhibitions that pay tribute to Chile’s darkest hour. Culminating in the discovery at the old house in La Reina.

What do you think happened to Penny and Cleon’s baby? Based on what you know, what is the story you can believe in your heart? Would you have preferred a “Hollywood” resolution, or was it more realistic for the Tholets just to have to accept what they could believe?

FOOD

Food and hospitality play a major part in the novel. The act of cooking for loved ones, harboring friends and family in the haven of home. From Jude’s casual “Full Frontal Fondue” with his squad, to Tej’s fierce religion of welcoming guests to his home with food and drink. Even the festival food during Chile’s Independence Week plays a part. 

Will you try any of the recipes at the end of the book?

If you made the Venetian fish soup, would you add the ginger?

Prunes. Discuss.

MUSIC

Jude is a classically trained pianist who plays for a ballet company. The power of music is woven throughout the novel—from giving Jude social confidence when he’s a young teenager, to Cleon using the music of the Beatles to escape his torture and interrogation in the Villa Grimaldi. Even Tej shares that he only learned about the coup in Chile because of Sting’s song, “They Dance Alone.”

THE CONDOR

“El Condor pasa.” 

Imagery of the condor transforms over the arc of Jude’s storyline, from the historic “Operation Condor” to the violent hate crime at the hands of “el Condór,” to the spiritual meaning of the Andean Condor and the message of power and enlightenment in the predator’s sky-kingdom. A symbolic journey from Jude the Obscure to Jude the Revealed.

After reading Condors are you interested in reading Alex Penda’s story in An Exaltation of Larks?

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Author Suanne Laqueur can be reached at: suanne@suannelaqueurwrites.com

She is always happy to Skype into book clubs to discuss her novels. Don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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