There are few things that make me happier than hearing from readers.
Writing books is a largely solitary venture, one pursued in a private room with only imaginary characters for company, the sound of the keyboard and my writing playlists as the sole accompaniment.
And yet, once the story is out there, once the book is published, everything changes. The story is no longer something living exclusively in my head and on the tips of my keyboard-tapping fingers; it becomes a dynamic thing. Each reader relates to the characters and reacts to the narrative in a wholly unique and personal — and oftentimes entirely surprising — way. I love this. It is exciting and enlightening and always unexpected. I love to hear from readers about how they felt about a certain character or scene, things they were moved by, moments they would have done differently.
Book clubs are especially fun to engage with. I happen to be a member of multiple book clubs, and I love to speak to book clubs whenever possible.
You can imagine my delight when I heard from a particularly enthusiastic book club this week that was throwing a “Sisi” themed birthday party for one of their members. They reached out to ask me to write a personal birthday card, as they were celebrating a dear friend who was turning 70, and they were going to have cardboard cut-outs of Sisi and yours truly there to do it! There were costumes and tiaras and royal readings. Check out this hilarious photo:
Happy birthday, Delores! I wish I could have been there to celebrate with you in person (rather than in cardboard). From the sound of it, you are an incredible woman with many friends who love you dearly. And it looks like it was a fete fit for an empress!
If you are in a book club, I’d be so thrilled if you would consider making ‘Sisi’ one of your books, and I’d love to hear from you in the process.
To get the conversation started, please check out the brand new questions that we just developed for this book, and feel free to peruse the Book Club page for ideas on ‘The Traitor’s Wife’ and ‘The Accidental Empress’ as well.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. The Habsburg family is perhaps most famous for being the family to start World War I when its heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo. But the world did not simply erupt into a global conflict over night. What signs do we see throughout this novel that a major international crisis is looming?
2. What is your favorite thing about seeing the Habsburg Court come to life? Is it the music? The fashion? The court rituals? Discuss the aspects of this time period and setting that you enjoyed learning about.
3. The opening quotes of this novel are Sisi explaining why she is such a compulsive traveler, and her lady-in-waiting describing Sisi’s perpetual restlessness. What significance does travel play in Sisi’s life throughout this novel? What are some other forms of escape, literal or symbolic, for the empress?
4. Discuss the three great love interests of Sisi’s life – Franz Joseph, Julius Andrassy, and Bay Middleton. How do they each treat her differently? How does Sisi behave differently with each of them? Was any one of them the one true love of Sisi’s life?
5. Were Crown Prince Rudolf’s troubled adulthood and tragic death inevitable? What impact did Sisi have on his fate? Would history have been different had Rudolf lived?
6. Sisi is still remembered to this day for her otherworldly beauty. Everyone from the Shah of Persia to the Kaiser of Germany proclaimed admiration for her. Discuss this aspect of her personality. Does Sisi’s vanity make her unlikable? Is her fixation with her looks in any way understandable?
7. Discuss the character of King Ludwig of Bavaria. What role does Ludwig play in Sisi’s life? How does Ludwig differ from some of the other monarchs we meet throughout the novel?
8. While at the Archduchess Sophie’s deathbed, Sisi comes across her mother-in-law’s diary and reads various different passages that take her back to significant moments in her life and in her problematic relationship with Sophie. Discuss this moment. Did this insight into Sophie’s feelings change your understanding of her at all? How did this revelation affect Sisi?
9. Sisi often laments the responsibilities of her royal role, fighting against the expectations placed upon her, whereas Franz Joseph is more accepting of his obligations and duties. Do you think Sisi had it difficult? How would you feel if you were thrust into her place?
10. What would have happened had Sisi not been murdered by anarchist Luigi Luccheni? Would the fate of the Habsburg Empire have been altered? Would Franz Joseph have been different? Would history have played out differently?