Half Life Paperback by Krista Foss

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Half Life Paperback by Krista Foss

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Product Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ McClelland & Stewart (March 2 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 328 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0771036493
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 9780771036491
  • Item weight ‏ : ‎ 345 g
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 14.3 x 2.06 x 20.96 cm


1.“You can’t outlive a bomb. It’s forever reaching backward and forward in time. Damn thing never stops going off.” (page 27) “Elin wants her students to see that it is all interconnected, that the wonder and guilt of the bomb is shared, and knit with stories we know and don’t know, and ones that continue.” (page 296) How do these quotes relate to Elin’s story?

2. In the opening section of the book, we witness Elin confronting her father’s death. What do you think of The Lilli’s actions surrounding Tig’s death? Why do you think she went to Elin instead of calling paramedics?

3. What did you think of Elin’s relationships with her siblings, Casper and Mette? How have these relationships, and their pitfalls, affected Elin’s growth? How does Elin compare with her siblings, both in reality and in Elin’s own views?

4. Throughout the story, we see Elin seeking small ways to self-harm, particularly with her use of thumbtacks. Why do you think Elin behaves this way? What other, more discreet ways does Elin display this self-harming behaviour? 

5. Why does Elin, as both a child and adult, focus so much on her imagined relationship to Niels Bohr? What does this relationship offer Elin?

6. The story weaves in Elin’s own relationship to physics and incorporates stories of the accomplishments of many renowned physicists, including Chien-Shiung Wu, Maria Goeppert Mayer, and Lise Meitner. Do you see Elin’s experiences mirrored in these stories and in these historical figures? In particular, how does Lise Meitner’s story, and the idea of being “the mother of a bomb” relate to Elin’s story?

7. Why do you think Elin reacts so strongly to Bets’s search for her father? How does Bets’s search differ from the one Elin and her siblings took to find their own family lineage?

8. Half Life is told in pieces, jumping between timelines and histories. What does this structure tell us about the nature of memory? How does the title, Half Life, relate to Elin’s story? To memory? To trauma?

9. Examine the ways food is used throughout the story and in relation to different people and relationships. Specifically, how do Moon Pies with Mette, the flødeboller from The Lilli, and Whippets with Marty play into the story? What do they tell us about Elin and her relationships?

10. Elin often thinks of Niels Bohr’s sister Jenny. In what ways are Elin and Jenny similar? In what ways are they different?

11.Throughout the novel, we see the recurring motif of broken glass (the cracked window pane, Elin’s broken dental mirror, the trinitite brooch, The Lilli’s shattered glassware). Why does this imagery continue to appear in different ways throughout the story? Examine each instance and discuss its importance.

12. “But if seeing is believing, then perhaps, she thinks, not seeing is another kind of believing, equally powerful.” (page 43) How does this quote relate to the reactions from each member of Elin’s family?

13. How do you feel about the relationship between Elin and The Lilli? How does this relationship shape Elin? How does Elin’s parenting style stem from or veer away from her own experiences with her parents?

14. At the end of the novel, we see Elin striking out on her own and pursuing her own growth. Has Elin changed over the course of the events described in the novel?

About Author

KRISTA FOSS's short fiction has appeared in Granta and has twice been a finalist for the Journey Prize. Her first novel, Smoke River, won the Hamilton Literary Award. She's an award-winning essayist who has worked as a bartender, journalist, and teacher. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and lives in Hamilton, Ontario.

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