Grandmother, Laughing

Grandmother, Laughing by Armin Wiebe


Grandmother, Laughing


Heartbreaking and beautiful, Grandmother, Laughing is Armin Wiebe's most poignant work yet.


Until she met Obrum Kehler, serious Sarah Sudermann had never laughed. Her mother said she always reached for the black things first. But then Obrum looked at her with his robin’s egg eyes and red paint on his nose.

And then there was the lawnswing . . . and the piano. Not practical. Not necessary. But with Beethoven Blatz’s arrival everything is in place for the Kehler family to make great music together.

Full of love, longing, and tenderness, Grandmother, Laughing is a story about an unconventional family and the lengths we will go to find fulfillment for ourselves and the ones we cherish.


Shortlisted, The Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction

The richness of Wiebe’s description of prairie life, the prairie itself, his insights into the characters’ lives, is enhanced by the Mennonite terms and expressions he uses. The reader is suddenly transported to Gutenthal and becomes immersed in the lives of the author’s creation.

The novel moves with the skill of its author, flowing from one generation to the next all the time with Sarah setting one foot in front of the other, breathing, “Not just nose and lungs, no, the head—and the heart and soul.” (212)

--Mary Barnes, Prairie Fire

Multiple themes and re-visioned ancient archetypes are deftly smuggled in via Mennonite peasant humour, both linguistic and farcical. It’s as if [Wiebe] wishes to insist, one more time, that the grand potential of human endeavour, with all its creative hunger for beauty and capacity for love, is as likely to be seen in a simple Mennonite milk maid... as in some courtly tragic hero... Read GRANDMOTHER, LAUGHING twice, and before the second reading, listen carefully to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Then, as the shivers run up your ‘backstring,’ let the ‘peasant woman’ Susch be translated into the laughing grandmother, the muse.

--Journal of Mennonite Studies

Book Club Questions
  1. How does this novel work as a love story?
  2. What images stayed in your mind after reading the novel? How did these images affect your reading experience?
  3. How did the title serve your experience of reading the novel?
  4. Discuss the central choices Susch, Obrum, and Blatz make. Discuss the consequences of these choices.
  5. How do secrets affect the actions and happiness of the characters?
  6. Although the story is set in the past, in what way could the characters’ situation have relevance in today’s world?
  7. What relationship did you see between the tall grass prairie setting and the characters’ emotional states?
  8. Discuss Susch’s reliability as a narrator.
  9. Although they only appear on the page through the memories of Blatz and Obrum, discuss how Sonia and Maria influence the decisions Obrum, Susch, and Blatz make?
  10. How does the shadow at the window drive the story?
  11. Why does baseball matter so much to Isaac?
  12. Discuss the challenges of happily sustaining a love triangle? How many triangles are there in the novel?
  13. How is this novel about grace?
  14. How is this novel about breathing?
  15. How is this a novel about parents’ ideals and eccentricities and their effect on their children?
  16. Preacher Funk warns his congregation about “talking through the flower.” In what way is the novel about unclear communication and its consequences?
  17. Susch and Obrum have a son named Isaac. Discuss the significance of that.
  18. How does art inform the characters’ spirituality?
  19. Discuss the various grief experiences the characters have, and how trauma is processed and embodied by the characters.
  20. Discuss the significance of the lawn swing, the wedding dress, and the piano to the different characters.
  21. In some ways, Susch’s story is bookended with Susch’s grandmother and her great-granddaughter. Discuss the role of familial memory and intergenerational “ghosts” in the novel.
  22. How is Susch’s home with Blatz and Obrum peaceful? How is it violent?

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