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A Reader's Guide

Homestead, by Rosina Lippi

“By the time you finish the first of these linked stories, you can hardly bear to have it end." — The New Yorker

High in the alpine Bregenz Forest of westernmost Austria, guarded by the majestic Three Sisters and the Praying Hands, the small village of Rosenau and its outlying farms—its homesteads—shelter the passions, traditions, and dreams that both animate and reveal the human heart. In isolated Rosenau, the arrival of a postcard is enough to set all 363 villagers talking. Other visitors and intrusions from the outside world—two world wars, a new factory, motor cars, packaged foods—during the nearly seventy years covered by Rosina Lippi’s heartfelt, expertly crafted first novel have more serious and lasting impact.

Beginning in 1909 with the story of Anna Sutterlüty of Bengat homestead, Lippi’s four-generation portrait of the interconnected families of Bengat and Bent Elbow homesteads and the Wainwright’s Clan emerges through the figures of twelve remarkable women, from Anna in 1909 to Bent Elbow’s Martin’s Laura in 1977. Each story-chapter adds layers of complexity and understanding from a different character’s point of view, and the life of Rosenau—ever changing and ever enduring—gathers depth, intricacy, and truth. When the portrait is complete, we are struck with the fullness and beauty of a world as remote as Shangri-La and as near as next door, as strange as the most distant farmhouse and as immediate and familiar as our own dreams, desires, and loves.

Questions for Discussion

We hope the following questions will stimulate discussion for reading groups and, for every reader, provide a deeper understanding of Homestead.

1. What details of homestead life emerge in Rosina Lippi’s portrait of Rosenau?

2. In what ways, including two world wars, does the outside world impinge on the life of Rosenau between 1909 and 1977, and with what results? In what ways do these outside influences—for example, the Nazi abduction of Stante and Michel—change the lives of individual villagers and the community?

3. How does life differ for the married and single women of Rosenau? What are some of the changes that we witness over several generations?

4. How would you describe family life on the homesteads? In what ways does each family conform to convention and tradition, and in what ways does it diverge from them? How do relationships within and among Rosenau’s families develop over the years?

5. Johanna takes note of “the carefully drawn, precisely detailed world [Francesco] had created for himself” in his maps. What counter-worlds do some of the characters create for themselves? How are these worlds linked with or separated from the actual world? To what effect?

6. Johanna tells Francesco, “The women in the village know my family tree better than I do;” and Isabella, at 70, “can name every one of the three hundred sixty-three people who call Rosenau home.” What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having everyone know every detail about one’s life, family, and family history?

7. In 1917, “the weight” of waiting for word from Peter and for Peter’s return “seems to have tipped the [Sutterlüty] family out of balance and set them spinning haphazardly.” What other families or individuals seem “out of balance”? Do they ever regain their balance?

8. Angelika, Mikatrin, Olga (in a letter to her POW husband), and Martha are the only women to tell their stories directly. Why do you think the stories of these four—among all the women in the book—are told directly to us?

9. During the last year of World War II, Alois’s Katharina is surprised “to see that some things she thought everlasting . . . also had their limitations.” What things do the people of Rosenau, individually and in common, think of as everlasting? Which of those things do last, and which have “their limitations”?

10. How do the people of Rosenau memorialize their dead? In what ways do the dead remain in or revisit the lives of the living, and why?

11. Martha says that when she joins the women of her family who have died before her, “they will have embraced each other and merged into one woman who is mother and sister and aunt and daughter. And I will not have to choose between them.” In what ways might we say that the twelve storytellers in Homestead individually embrace all the female roles of mother, sister, aunt, and daughter and merge into one woman who is all women?

12. Grumpy Marie is the one female character present in Homestead from its beginning to nearly the end and the only major female character who does not have a story-chapter of her own. Why do you think this is so? In what ways does our view of Marie at 95, in the old folks’ home, change our earlier view of her as the spinster shopkeeper and postmistress?

13. Near the end of the book, Bent Elbow’s Martin’s Laura has a vision of the future in which “she saw children playing: the child she had lost . . . ; the other children she would bear or lose before she was forty; the grandchildren who come soon after.” What does this vision of the future have in common with the lives of the women who have preceded Laura? Does her vision sufficiently reflect the role and experiences of Rosenau’s women?

14. In “Anna,” Lippi writes that the men’s lives “were ruled by a simple cycle.” What is that cycle, and how does it rule the men’s lives? How does this cycle affect the women’s lives? What other cycles contribute to shaping the lives of Rosenau’s men and women?

15. Hans speaks Johanna’s name “like a man holding on to something he didn’t put much value on but called his own anyway.” To what extent is this representative of the Rosenau men’s attitude toward the women? Is it typical of only a few men in the village? If so, which ones and why?

16. What forms does love take—for example, Isabella’s love for her son, Peter, and Johanna’s love for Francesco? What role do the various kinds of love play in the cohesion of family and village life?

17. Married to Alois for nearly fifty years, Isabella thinks that her husband’s comment, “Better ice that melts than fire that gives out,” expresses “the simple truth of marriage.” Why does this seem true for all the marriages in the book, or why not? What other “truths of marriage” emerge in these stories?

18. In what ways does Lilimarlene’s return to Rosenau contrast with her mother, Katharina’s desire to get away? What does Kaspar’s Jos mean when he tells Lilimarlene, near the book’s end, “You don’t need a reason to come home . . . You need a reason to stay away”? How does this apply to every one of the book’s main characters?

For a list of the characters mentioned in these questions, see “The People” below.

The People

Alois Sutterlüty • (1845—1919) Bengato Alois. Patriarch of the Bengat Clan. Husband of Isabella. Father of Peter and father-in-law of Anna.

Anna Sutterlüty (née Fink) • (1877—1947) Bengato Peter’s Anna. Wife of Peter Sutterlüty.

Angelika Feuerstein (née Lang) • (1885—1938). Bent Elbow Clan. Bent Elbow’s Angelika. Wife of Hans. Mother of Mikatrin. Sister of Johanna.

Francesco Donati • (1870—?) Italian soldier; deserter. Lover of Johanna Lang. Father of Martha Feuerstein.

Hans Feuerstein • (1884—1936) Hans from the Hill or Bent Elbow’s Hans. Husband of Angelika. Father of Mikatrin.

Isabella Sutterlüty (née Schwendiger) • (1847—1920) Bengato Alois’s Isabella. Wife of Alois Sutterlüty. Mother of Peter and mother-in-law of Anna.

Johanna Lang • (1879—1975) Bent Elbow’s Johanna. Sister of Angelika. Lover of Francesco. Mother of Martha.

Katharina Metzler • (1924—1950) Wainwright’s Katharina. Wife of Wiese (Alois). Natter. Mother of Lilimarlene.

Laura Schwendiger (née Ritter) • (1950— ) Bent Elbow’s Martin’s Laura.

Lilimarlene Natter • (1947— ) Dairy Lilimarlene. Daughter of Katharina and a Moroccan soldier.

Marie Metzler • (1879—1980) Grumpy Marie/Wainwright’s Marie. The Postmistress.

Martha Feuerstein • (1917—1975) Bent Elbow’s Martha. Teacher. Daughter of Johanna Lang and Francesco Donati.

Michel Metzler • (1901—1938) Twin brother of Stante. Grandson of The Wainwright. Abducted and killed by the Nazis.

Mikatrin Sutterlüty (née Feuerstein) • (1914— ) Bent Elbow’s Mikatrin. Daughter of Angelika and Hans Feuerstein. Wife of Leo Sutterlüty of Bengato homestead.

Olga Natter (née Sutterlüty) • (1900—1975) Bengato Peter’s Olga. Daughter of Peter and Anna. Wife of Klaus Natter.

Peter Sutterlüty • (1874—1939) Bengato Alois’s Peter. Son of Alois and Isabella. Husband of Anna.

Stante Metzler • (1901— ) Twin brother of Michel. Grandson of The Wainwright. Abducted by the Nazis, but survived.

About the Author

Rosina Lippi is an associate professor of linguistics in the English Department at Western Washington University. The Rosenau of Homestead is an amalgam of several villages in Vorarlberg, Austria’s westernmost province, where she lived and worked for four years. As she writes, during those years she “spent many hours talking to women of all ages . . . While I was listening to their vowels, they were teaching me what it means to be a storyteller.”

Lippi was born and raised in a predominantly German neighborhood of Chicago. “To this day,” she says, “I don’t know how we ended up in that neighborhood. My father had grown up in Italy; my mother’s grandparents came to the Chicago area in the late 1800s from all over northern Europe.” Between her junior and senior years at St. Benedict’s Catholic school, she spent the summer in Austria on an American Field Service scholarship; and she returned to Austria for two years “the day after I graduated from high school.” After she returned to Chicago, she spent seven years wandering “from Chicago to Boston and New Jersey and back to Chicago. I managed to pull myself together, went back to school, and finished my undergraduate degree.” Her doctoral thesis in linguistics at Princeton took her back to Vorarlberg, where she gathered material for her dissertation and for Homestead. Marriage and a daughter followed, as did academic tenure and a series of publications. Then, “little by little, my focus shifted to storytelling. Homestead was written over a five-year period.” Other stories followed. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Glimmer Train Stories, and Redbook.

Now, at Western Washington University, Lippi says “I have mountains to look at . . . I teach linguistics and creative writing, and I write in a room of my own, with a view.”

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