Readers have asked . . .

Q. Most of your characters have very close relationships with animals, even above and beyond Hannah. Do you write your animal characters the same way you write your human characters?

A. One of the greatest challenges in writing Hannah’s Dream was to avoid anthropomorphizing—endowing my animal characters with human qualities. To be honest, I’m not sure how well I did: Miles, in particular, is an irrepressible character to whom I gave a very strong sense of whimsy and humor. In my gut it felt right, and animals do sometimes laugh, so I think I got away with it. Hannah, too, though clearly an elephant, has a personality that is entirely her own, transcending but hopefully not violating her elephant-ness. And let’s not forget the thuggish Kitty, one of three cats belonging to Johnson Johnson. He is 100% cat—but then, I have cats of my own, so I knew I was on solid ground there!

A Discussion Guide for Reading Groups

  1. Several characters in Hannah’s Dream have or are given mixed, scrambled or multiple identities. Harriet, for instance, takes on the persona of Max Biedelman. Which other characters have identity issues, and why?
  2. Sam and Max Biedelman develop a deep friendship. On what do the uneducated black zookeeper and worldly old woman base their relationship? Would their relationship be different if they had met today?  Or under different circumstances?
  3. Animals both large and small play key roles in the lives of the characters in Hannah’s Dream. Why are they so important to their owners and keepers?  In what ways are the various animal/human relationships similar, and in what what ways are they different?
  4. Why, at the end of the book, does Corinna begin to re-examine her relationship with God?
  5. Will Sam and Corinna ever travel to the Pachyderm Sanctuary to visit Hannah?
  6. Every character in this book (with the possible exception of Johnson Johnson) has been permanently altered or even defined by one essential event, calamity or crisis. In what ways do these personal histories allow the various characters to understand, and sympathize with, other characters – even if their secrets remain secret?
  7. Harriet Saul is initially portrayed as the villain in Hannah’s Dream, but does she deserve it? Did she change over the course of the book, and if so, how? Why?
  8. What’s the deal with Johnson Johnson? Is he a savant, a fool, or a genius?
  9. Sam and Corinna treat Hannah as the reincarnation of their stillborn daughter. Do they mean this literally or figuratively?
  10. Neva Wilson describes Hannah as a “charismatic mega-vertebrate,” a description that also includes whales, dolphins and other large and popular mammals. Do these animals have a place in today’s zoos?
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