Chapter 3: Email from God

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Swedish Again: Chapter-by-Chapter Guide

Questions for Understanding

  1. Who called Anna to tell her that Kevin was sick?
  2. What drew Anna into the conversation with Kevin?
  3. What did Anna do immediately after her conversation with Kevin?
  4. How did Anna feel about Sweden at this time?

Questions for Group Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you notice anything in Anna’s conversation with Kevin which indicates that they used to be emotionally close? Conversely, is there anything which indicates that they are no longer intimate?
  2. Anna struggles with how to refer to Kevin’s children – “his children,” “my former stepchildren,” etc. Have you ever faced any similar struggles? Are these labels important?
  3. On page 23, it says, “My mom and I were still Swedish in the sense that we usually kept our emotions away from the surface.” What are your thoughts on this? Is this a Swedish thing?
  4. The chapter ends with Anna calling herself greedy and perfectionistic. Based on what you know so far, do you agree with this self-assessment? Why, or why not?

Ideas for Further Consideration

  • Sometimes we refer to the material and spiritual worlds as opposites, yet in this chapter, Anna and Sinead reconnect emotionally based on a memory of Halloween candy. In your opinion, can material experiences and/or objects enhance one’s emotional or spiritual life? If so, how?
  • Anna mentions she speaks Swedish “well enough to make casual conversation.” How do you think this will limit her when she goes to Sweden? Is language ability important? If so, in what ways?

Especially for English Language Learners

Key Words and Expressions:

over-priced trinkets at the airport = small, trivial items, such as jewelry (p. 18)

I searched for things to say, rummaging… = searching, digging through a container (p. 20)

I could hear his self-effacing smile = modest, or shy; this can be used when someone jokes about himself or pretends to be shy in order to be charming (p. 20)

I made a mental note = tried to remember (p. 21)

I pictured her = imagined (p.21)

Language Focus:

Describing People

This chapter contains many descriptions of people, which help us understand the characters better. It’s important to notice and understand these adjectives and expressions, especially when there are so many characters, so let’s look at some of them here.

Kevin: lifelong health issues; musician; lilting Irish-Swedish accent

lifelong =lasting for one’s whole life

lilting = the voice rises and falls in a pleasant way

Jenny: oldest (with Canadian husband, Nathan)

James: reserved; older brother to Michael

reserved= slow to reveal emotions or opinions; quiet

Eun-joo: n/a

n/a = “not applicable”; she is not mentioned in this chapter.

Michael: reserved; rarely reached out

reach out = to initiate contact; to call, text, or email

Jillian: n/a

Kevin’s children: boisterous teenagers

boisterous = noisy, energetic, cheerful

Cara: “put on the youngest two” (She’s helping.); on the phone constantly with Anna

Sean: now 19; had his father’s voice; sounded soft and open

soft = gentle

open = willing to talk and not hide emotions or opinions

Deirdre: now 18; sounded soft and open

Fionn: same soft, shy tone as before; voice of a young man; willing to talk

tone (of voice) = sound; general attitude

Sinead: animated and eager; remembered Halloween

animated = full of life or excitement

eager = very interested; enthusiastic

Rory: was a kindergartener at Sea-Tac Airport  

Anna’s mother: retired family matriarch; was (formerly) a PhD student, medical physicist; usually kept emotions away from the surface

retired = not working anymore, usually due to age

matriarch = the female leader of a family

Answers to Part 1

  1. Michael, her son who lived in Sweden.
  2. “unfinished business”
  3. She called Kevin’s children.
  4. She felt uncomfortable. When she went there, she felt stupid and had to fight off ghosts from her childhood.

Chapter 2: Heartbroken

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Swedish Again: Chapter-by-Chapter Guide

Questions for Understanding

  1. Which musical instrument did Jillian play, and what was the joke about it?
  2. Why was Anna worried about Michael?
  3. Who was Anna’s oldest child, and where did she work?
  4. At the end of this chapter, what did Anna wish God would do?

Questions for Group Reflection and Discussion

  1. This chapter is called Heartbroken. What are the elements of that heartbreak? How does she attempt to cope with her feelings of loss?
  2. In this chapter, we get to know Anna’s children a little better. Do any of the children remind you of someone you know? Why?
  3. On page 9, it says, “True to our family culture, she ignored my flat expression and pretended nothing was wrong with me.” What do you think this says about their family culture? Where do you think this comes from?
  4. When Anna took four of her children on pilgrimage, she said it was supposed to be her last act as a parent. Do you think it’s possible for parenting to end? If so, which age or life event might mark that end?

Ideas for Further Consideration

  • In this chapter, we get a glimpse into Anna’s inner coping strategies. At one time, she lies in bed and pictures her stepchildren. At another, she says, “fake it till you make it.” At yet another, she prays. Which of these inner strategies for coping with stress can you relate to? Do you have others?
  • In the last scene, Anna and her coworker joke about God sending an email. In other words, she wants clear direction. Do you think that life (or God) gives us direction? Are there certain things we are meant to do, or is the navigation of our lives completely our own?

Especially for English Language Learners

Key Words and Expressions:

Instead of protecting my kids, I sent out feeble messages like this. I stared at the wall and loathed myself. I must have done something wrong. I felt nauseated…Were we just powerless victims of life, leaves to be blown around at the will of a capricious force? (p. 11)

“feeble” = weak, lacking strength

“loathed” = hated; felt disgusted by

“nauseated” = sick; feeling like you might vomit

“capricious” = (someone whose) behavior and/or mood changes suddenly and unpredictably

Grammar Focus:

Would in Storytelling

The word “would” is used for many things in English. In storytelling, when the main story is told in the past tense, it means “will.” In other words, it means future.

p. 11

…but with Kevin gone, how would things go for him now?

= “How will things go for him now?”

I was afraid Michael would feel like a physical link between Kevin and me.

= “Will Michael feel like a physical link between Kevin and me?”

p. 12

How would I walk? How would I hold my children?

= “How will I walk? How will I hold my children?”

Here is another simple example. Remember, the main story is in the past, and the narrator is looking at the future.

I sat down and made a list of things to buy for the party. I would go to the supermarket first. Then I would stop by the bakery to pick up the cake. Finally, I would go to the florist for the bouquet I had ordered.

Answers to Part 1

  1. She played the tuba. It was a joke because Anna rushed home on Fridays to drive it to Jillian’s private lesson, while Jillian went there separately.
  2. She worried that he would feel torn between her and Kevin (among other things.)
  3. Jenny was the oldest. She was a university student who worked at Starbucks.
  4. She wished God would send her an email.

Chapter 1: The Marriage Fiasco

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Questions for Understanding

  1. How did Kevin describe college in Sweden?
  2. Where did Kevin and Anna decide to live?
  3. How long did Kevin and his children stay in Washington?
  4. What did Anna do a few days after Christmas Day, 2010?

Questions for Group Reflection and Discussion

  1.  In Chapter 1, we get a whirlwind tour of a marriage that didn’t work. From what you see here, what do you think was the main reason the marriage was such a disaster?
  2. What event or idea in this chapter affected you the most on an emotional level? Why?
  3. Anna describes Kevin as a man “of the Carpe Diem motto” and herself as more cautious. It seems like a case of “opposites attract.” What do you think of this idea? Do opposites really attract?
  4. If you faced situations like those described in the Prologue and Chapter 1, how do you think you would react? Why?

Ideas for Further Consideration

  • Many people see marriage as a sacred institution. Others view it as an economic or emotional bond. What’s your view?
  • Blending families is always tricky. What do you think are the main things to consider in order to successfully blend a family?

Especially for English Language Learners

Key Words and Expressions:

“I finally laid it out for him:” = I finally explained the situation clearly and directly. (page 5)

“Carpe Diem” = This is a Latin expression which means “seize the day.” It means to grab opportunities instead of letting them slip away. (page 6)

“littered with moving boxes” = messy; the moving boxes were here and there; not neat (page 7)

“blended family” = a family which has children from previous relationships (page 8)

Grammar Focus:

Commas with Compound Sentences

A compound sentence is when you have two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, such as “and,” “but,” “so,” or “or.” The comma rule is to put a comma before the conjunction.

I liked him, but I found the relationship improbable. (p. 5)

College would be free for my kids, and the state would support them… (p.5)

He said he’d move to me instead, and I just smiled. (p.6)

This rule is not very difficult, but it can be confusing to recognize compound sentences. Here are two typical situations when a comma should not be used.

  1. When there is a conjunction but no second subject:

He called me a pessimist and (he) kept encouraging me to move to Stockholm. (p.5)

We were both middle-aged and (we) figured we should grab the opportunity to be happy. (p.6)

2. When “so” means “so that”:

In the end, we decided to get married right away so (that) we could process green cards for him and his kids…

To decide whether to use a comma before a conjunction, it’s important to a) identify the subjects and verbs in the sentence and b) decide what “so” means in the context of the sentence.

Answers to Part 1

  1. He said it was free.
  2. The decided to live in Washington State, USA.
  3. They stayed for less than four months.
  4. She rented a van and drove Kevin and his children, along with their luggage, back to Sea-Tac Airport.

Swedish Again Chapter-By-Chapter Guide: Prologue

Questions for Understanding

  1. Which Swedish word confused Anna while she was teaching? Why?
  2. When Anna asked to see her coworker’s reports, what did she need?
  3. What happened in 2015 to cause a huge change in Anna’s life?
  4. How old was Anna when she first moved to America as a child?

Questions for Group Reflection and Discussion

  1. What part of the Prologue struck you the most? Why? What do you think this part tells us about the main character (Anna)?
  2. In the first scene, we see that being bilingual can sometimes led to confusion. Do you have any personal experience with this? What are your experiences with learning English or a language other than English?

Ideas for Further Consideration

  • When you think of the word “immigration,” what images come to mind? What kinds of feelings do these images provoke?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write this prologue instead of putting this information into the chapters later? Do you think this introductory information is helpful?

Especially for English Language Learners

Key Words and Expressions:

“My heart started racing.” = My heart started beating fast. (page 1)

“I squared my shoulders.” = I stood up straight, making my body strong. (page 1)

“a game of 52 Pick-Up” = a game bullies play with a deck of cards. The bully throws the cards in the air, and then the other person has to pick them up. (page 3)

“underage” = under 18 years old (page 3)

“I put down roots.” = I settled down. I stopped moving. (page 4)

Grammar Focus:

Past Perfect Tense in Storytelling

When you read a story which is written in the past tense, it is common to see a tense called past perfect. This means something happened before the past tense action.

The form of the past perfect is HAD + PAST PARTICIPLE:

= had been (married)

= had (not) spoken

= had petered out

The form of the simple past is just VERB:

= was, were

= died

= lived

Here is an example from page 3, with explanations:

I was living in Seattle with my newly adult children, and Kevin was in Stockholm with his six, three of whom were still underage. (This is happening “now” in the story. It is simple past tense.) We had been married for only two years and hadn’t spoken to each other in the four years since then, except for a brief phone call as he lay dying. (This happened before the “now” of the story. It happened in the past-past. It uses past perfect tense.) Our contact had petered out after I sent our then 16-year-old son, Michael, over to live with him. (This also happened in the past-past, before the main story. You may notice that the main clause is in past perfect and the time clause, starting with “after I sent…” is in simple past. The time clause is not the main clause of the sentence.) When Kevin died, my distraught son and former stepchildren lived across the ocean from my home. (Now we are back at the “now” of the story. This is in simple past tense.)

Answers to Part 1

  1. Pryl. She thought that it sounded like the English word, “pearl,” but it actually meant “gadget.”
  2. She needed Swedish spelling and vocabulary.
  3. Her second ex-husband, Kevin, died of cancer in Sweden.
  4. She was six years old.
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Sweden seems to have come to Seattle!

Looking out my window these days, it’s hard to tell I’m in (usually) rainy Seattle and not snowy Stockholm! When my boots crunch on the ice and snow as I walk my confused little dog, my mind pulls me back to my walks in the woods of Sweden. Has it really been four years since I left? Has it really been seven years since that first, dark winter in Sweden when my stepchildren were grieving and upset?

No matter where we are on this planet, one thing is sure: time moves forward. Now it will soon be 2022. What will time bring us in the coming 365 days? Good things, I hope.

For the next few days, I will be posting short posts like this. Then, in 2022, I will start sharing a chapter-by-chapter guide for my book, Swedish Again. This is a time of learning, reflection, and preparation. Thank you for sharing it with me.