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The Pull of the Stars Discussion Guide: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue

Biography of Emma Donoghue

Information about the author and her work is available at


Fun with Emma Donoghue

From Emma's webpage:

If you had a time machine, where would you go?
Late eighteenth-century London, England. I'd be a rich spinster of scandalous habits, my hats would be enormous, chocolate drops would have been recently invented, and there'd be revolutions to provide a little excitement.

Other Books Emma Donoghue


Did you know?

Emma was born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, and is the youngest of eight children.

Discussion Questions

1. During the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, many people referred to the 1918 Spanish flu as a touchpoint. What was your awareness of the 1918 flu before the 2020 pandemic? How important is an understanding of history when we deal with similar crises in the present?

2. Julia and the other health workers face many challenges, including lack of supplies, misinformation, and sexism. Which of those challenges were unique to Julia’s time and place? To what extent do our health-care workers face the same challenges today?

3. Throughout The Pull of the Stars, Julia notices government placards with public health warnings and advice. Why do you think Emma Donoghue included them in the novel? Were your government’s efforts to communicate with the general public during the coronavirus pandemic similar to those in the novel, or different?

4. War in several senses–the First World War in which Tim Power served, and the Irish revolutionary struggle in which Dr. Lynn is a leader–is the context to The Pull of Stars. What effect do these distant conflicts have on the story and atmosphere of the novel? Why is war kept mostly in the background rather than in the foreground?

5. Julia argues that women pay “the blood tax” just as much as soldiers. What did you think about the detailed scenes that depicted childbirth and its complications? How do you think birth functions as a source of plot compared with the flu?

6. In the novel, the expectant mothers have very different family situations and relations and relationships with their children. Which patient did you identify with the most? Which patient’s story was the most surprising to you?

7. How does status of “immunity” function in the novel?

8. What does Bridie Sweeney bring into Julia’s life? Into the novel as a whole?

9. What effect does the slow of revelation of her background have on your sense of other characters, institutions, and Ireland’s history?

10. How does it change your response to a character in a novel such as Kathleen Lynn when you learn that she was a historical figure? What does an author owe to a real person when fictionalizing them?

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