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November 14, 2019

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Discussion questions for ‘The Power’

Our March pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club is Naomi Alderman’s “The Power.” Become a member of the Now Read This book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.

Naomi Alderman, author of “The Power.” Credit: Justine Stoddart

Below are questions to help guide your discussions as you read the book over the next month. You can also submit your own questions for Alderman on our Google form here. Alderman will answer reader questions on the NewsHour broadcast at the end of the month.

*Spoiler alert on questions further down.*

  1. Before starting “The Power,” what assumptions do you have about a book on women who develop superpowers?
  2. The book’s epigraph is a quote from the Bible, 1 Samuel 8, about how Samuel cautions people against wanting a king, but they do not listen. What is the significance of this passage?
  3. From the beginning of “The Power,” the reader discovers that it is a book-within-a-book. What did you make of the opening correspondence between Naomi and Neil?
  4. “The shape of power is always the same; it is the shape of a tree,” Alderman writes on page 3. “Root to tip, central trunk branching and re-branching, spreading wider in ever-thinner, searching fingers.” What does she mean by this? How does the book’s cover play off of this imagery?
  5. Why do you think Alderman chose the ability to conduct electricity and send jolts as women’s newfound superpower?
  6. The novel-within-a-novel’s structure is divided into chapters about different people affected by “the power”: Roxy, Allie, Tunde, Margot and more. To which storyline did you feel most attached, and why?
  7. The novel’s characters include a politician, a journalist, a religious figure and a member of an organized crime family. How does Alderman use these characters to explore the theme of power?
  8. What is the significance of the illustrations Alderman includes?
  9. As more and more women gain “the power” in the book, how does the global order shift? How does the change shift your own perspective of “the power”?
  10. In the New York Times Book Review, speculative fiction writer Amar El-Mohtar writes that the book explores “how power corrupts everyone: those new to it, and those resisting its loss.” How does it corrupt those new to it?
  11. On page 135, Alderman includes archival documents that explain the electrostatic power’s origins and potential cure. Were these convincing to you?
  12. On page 154, she excerpts discussions from an online forum discussing Mother Eve. Did this feel relevant to today’s online communities, and if so, how?
  13. At several points in the book, Alderman writes that women are using the power in unsettling ways simply “because they can.” Do you believe this is true of human nature?
  14. Near the end of the book, the voice tells Allie that the questions she’s asking are the mistake. The voice says everything is more complicated than about Adam vs. Eve, who’s good or who’s bad, and the powerful vs. the powerless. Do you agree?
  15. At the end of the novel, the correspondence between Naomi and Neil reappears. What do their letters tell us about the future the world is set in? What does it show us about the present we’re living in?
  16. How did this book make you think differently about gender, or about power? Was it unsettling to you?

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