THE TRAIN TO ORVIETO

Discussion Questions

·      While some readers question whether the principal female characters, Willa and Fina, could have made other, perhaps better, choices in their lives, others have observed that Willa and Fina made the choices available to them in their particular places and times. Which view do you share? Why? What has been your own experience in having and making choices about your life?

 

·      Most of the characters in The Train to Orvieto deceive themselves in some way and act on those deceptions. How would you describe their self-deceptions, their motivations, and their consequences? Do you feel that these characters exemplify common human traits or are they perhaps just eccentric, foolish, or merely dishonest?

 

·      Gabriele and Willa’s relationship begins unexpectedly and with great passion. What were the causes(s) of the failure of their marriage?

 

·      Losine is a somewhat enigmatic character. What is your understanding of him? What questions do you have about him? What is his role in the story? Do you think his suffering and guilt are deserved or not? Why?

 

·      What is the nature of the relationship between Losine and Willa? Why are they important to each other? Do you think he and Willa truly loved each other? Why or why not? Was their decision to remain apart (1) a noble act of sacrifice and renunciation or (2) simply a demonstration of a lack of commitment to their relationship or (3) a result of circumstances beyond their control?

 

·      What do you make of Fina’s effort to reconcile with Gabriele? What does she want Gabriele to forgive? Do you agree with Gabriele that forgiveness demands that we “bless what we cannot bear”? Why or why not? Do you think ultimately Gabriele accepts what he cannot bear and forgives Willa and himself? Why?

 

·      In entering a different society and culture Willa comes up against attitudes and customs she doesn’t understand or isn’t aware of. What are some examples of her lack of understanding? Consider the change in Gabriele’s attitude toward Willa (p. 101, paragraph 3)? Compare Maria Christina’s view (p. 120-124) and Signora Farnese’s view (p.131) of Willa and her situation. Was Willa simply stupid or were her mistakes the results of youthful exuberance and naivete’?

 

·      Starting with Willa’s birthday party in Chapter 1, how many different views of Willa can you recall in the novel? How does Willa view herself? How do these different perspectives affect Willa and the course of her life? How do you view Willa, who she is, and what she wants?

 

·      In what ways does Willa change in the course of the story? In your view do these changes represent personal growth and a natural process of maturing? Why or why not? Would you say that Willa is someone who made lemonade out of lemons? Or do you feel Willa remains forever young and lacking in wisdom?

 

·      How do you understand the differences in Fina’s relationships with Bruno and with Joey? Is her decision to marry Joey one of convenience or is their relationship a deeper one? What do you think about Bruno’s attitude toward Fina at the end of the story? How do you understand Bruno?

 

·      How are the characters affected by the history of their time? How are they affected by tradition, social customs, and economic status? How would you describe the scope and limits of their control of their lives? In what ways are Willa and Fina constrained by their gender? Their circumstances? Would you say that The Train to Orvieto a feminist novel? Why or why not?

 

·      Willa and Losine agreed that Willa would tell Fina the truth about the circumstances of her birth. Do you agree with their decision? Why or why not?

 

·      What “unpriestly” qualities does Fr. Enrico have? What do you make of his discussions about faith with Losine (pp. 205-207) and Sylvana (pp. 295-96)? How does each of these characters view faith differently?

 

·      At the funeral meal (pp.293-296) there is a discussion of the meaning of happiness. Which view of happiness most accords with your own? Are the characters’ claims about happiness self-serving or not?

 

·      In what ways is the town of Orvieto a microcosm of the place where we all live our lives?

 

·      The story might be summarized as one of love, loss, betrayal, reconciliation, and forgiveness. Who betrays whom in the book? Who loses what in the story? What were the effects of these losses? Do you think Fina loses Joey or do you think he returned from Vietnam?

 

·      At the beginning of the story, Willa tells her father that she intends to miss nothing in life and plans to live life to the fullest. How does she fulfill that promise to herself? At one point in the story, Fina says that Willa “lost her dreams” and that she, Fina, doesn’t want to lose hers. Do you agree with Fina that Willa lost her dreams? Does everyone?