THE POET, THE COUNT, AND THE PEDDLER
by Anthony (Tony) Bottagaro
Discussion Questions for Book Clubs
1. The white rose appears in the very beginning of the book and at the very end. What, in your opinion, is the significance of the white rose?
2. The story of Mario and Catherine is a love story. What elements in the description of their life together strike you as evidence of a relationship based on true love?
3. The following quote is central to this book: "Always remember the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who retain their neutrality in times of moral crises."
a. What was your reaction to this statement?
4. Joe describes Peep as one who compartmentalizes. We have often heard this term in justifications or at least explanations of the undesirable actions of leaders and power players.
b. Do you feel each of us has a personal responsibility to attempt to right what is terribly wrong in our world?
c. Did it provoke any soul searching on your part in defining the term "moral crises"? Explain.
a. Is it possible to operate with a clear conscience in today's complicated world of mass information about the good and bad in government, business, and religion without compartmentalizing to some degree?
5. Mario has been compared to a Don Quixote fighting windmills of his mind. Do you think he is a weak figure handicapped by a strong naiveté and an over-active sense of the dramatic or the embodiment of wisdom who had the courage to face the demons in our society and give up the comfort and security of anonymity because he refused to accept the status quo and determined to fight for good? Explain.
b. Do you think Peep's questionable actions are outweighed in the scale of humanity by his desirable traits and actions?
1) What about his interest in Agent Orange?
2) What about his relationship and business dealings with his friends?
3) Is Sam really Mario's guardian angel?
6. Mario makes the statement that it is hard to change what is wrong with religion without attacking what is good with the church and the people who deserve our respect. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
7. The characters in this book struggle with life-altering decisions when making choices that affect family in various ways. The decision to leave Sicily and family and friends was a heartrending one for Tony and his family. Mario's decision to call for a general strike, to speak out against corruption in places of power, met with opposition from the people he loved most in the world. His decision about writing his book and becoming a peddler and fulfilling his dreams were difficult ones merely because they affected his family in various ways.
a. How would you determine the rightness of such decisions?
8. This book probes the darker workings of society. It talks about greed and corruption in business, government and religious circles. It also illuminates the good in society. Do you think it gives a fair assessment of history and current events in this area? Explain.
b. Do you think Mario's decisions were the right ones for him?
9. Some of the imaginative journeys of Mario's dreams have their basis in folklore, some in literature, and some in history.
a. What was the purpose of the imaginative journeys of Mario's dreams?
10. Do you see a relationship between the battle immigrants faced when Mario arrived in America and the one that immigrants are facing today? In what ways do you see the two situations as analogous and in what ways dissimilar? Explain.
b. What purposes do folklore, literature, and history play in our lives?
11. Family was the support system that kept Mario and his friends afloat through turmoil and tragedy. They clung to each other during times of grief over separation from their beloved homeland. Their unity helped them bear the burden of losing a precious family member to war, of the sting of injustice after a friend has betrayed them, of the lack of material things and the hard work that came with immigration to America in the '20s. They supported each other financially, physically and emotionally. Do you think family in today's society offers as strong a support system? Why or why not?
12. Do you think the relationship between Vincenza and her sister is a good portrayal of what many sister relationships are like? Explain.
13. Mario and his friends faced the horrible possibility that they would be fighting their kinsmen during World War II. Can you think of other times in history in which soldiers have been forced to or have chosen to fight their kinsmen?
14. The Mafia is the stigma that Italians have to fight against. What are some stigmas that Americans of other cultural heritages have to battle with?
15. How much do you know about Robert Calvi and the Vatican bank, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, and the riots and marches of the '60s? Do you feel the book accurately portrays these events and their impact on today's society?
16. Do you think the notion of a general strike in the United States is far-fetched and unbelievable? Do you doubt that such a concerted effort could occur so suddenly in this or any other "civilized" country. Consider the rights occurring globally today, the civil rights marches of the '60s and the Homestead Strike or other strikes in this country in the 1880s and 1890s.
17. Do you consider Mario's message about the power of unconditional love to be enlightened and motivating or overly simplistic and not one that speaks to today's world? Explain.
Arrange for Tony to provide a book talk at bookstores, cultural events, and other venues in communities that are holding one of his live performances.