Four Spirits

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From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation.

Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving...
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New Ships From Canada. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 520 p. Audience: General/trade. Book Description: From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes ... an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation. Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, civil rights advocates and racists, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, to create a tapestry of American social transformation. Stella Silver is an idealistic, young white college student brought up by her genteel, mannered aunts. She first witnesses the events of the freedom movement from a safe distance but, along with her friend Cat Cartwright, is soon drawn into the mounting con. Read more Show Less

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2003 Hard cover First edition. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 520 p. Audience: General/trade. Book Description: From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's ... Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation. Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, civil rights advocates and racists, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, to create a tapestry of American social transformation. Stella Silver is an idealistic, young white college student brought up by her genteel, mannered aunts. She first witnesses the events of the freedom movement from a safe distance but, along with her friend Cat Cartwright, is soon drawn into the mounting conflagratio Read more Show Less

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Overview

From the acclaimed author of the national bestseller Ahab's Wife comes an inspiring, brilliantly rendered new novel of the awakening conscience of the South and of an entire nation.

Written with the same scope and emotional depth as her previous award-winning novel, Four Spirits is set in Sena Jeter Naslund's home city of Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in the 1960s was known as Bombingham. Naslund brings to life this tumultuous time, weaving together the lives of blacks and whites, civil rights advocates and racists, and the events of peaceful protest and violent repression, to create a tapestry of American social transformation.

Stella Silver is an idealistic, young white college student brought up by her genteel, mannered aunts. She first witnesses the events of the freedom movement from a safe distance but, along with her friend Cat Cartwright, is soon drawn into the mounting conflagration. Stella's and Cat's lives are forever altered by their new friendships with other committed freedom fighters.

A student at a black college, Christine Taylor is inspired to action by the examples of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. She courageously struggles to balance her family responsibilities, education, and work with the passions and dangers of the demonstrations. Her friend Gloria Callahan, a gifted young cellist and descendant of a runaway slave, tries to move beyond her personal shyness and family coziness to enter a wider circle, including blacks and whites, men and women, all involved with the protests. Lionel Parrish, teacher, preacher, and peddler of funeral insurance, battles his own demons of lust and self-preservation, while New York activist Jonathan Green gives up a promising career as a pianist to work for racial justice in the South.

These characters all add their voices to the chorus that makes up this symphony of innocent children and the mythic elderly, the devoutly religious and the skeptical humanist, the wealthy and the poor, the city and the country. Poignant and evocative, rich in historical detail, and filled with the humanity that is the hallmark of Naslund's fiction, Four Spirits is a compelling tale that transcends tragedy and evokes redemptive triumph.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
The book's last act, involving the murder of four protesters at a sit-in, is violent and shocking and leads to one of the few sermons in contemporary literature that I can recall as vital and moving. Four Spirits plausibly upholds Stella's conviction (an old Southern one), expressed to her black colleagues, that ''our lives have always been layered together. . . . Inseparable, anyhow.'' In this novel, anyhow, she's right. And in this novel at least, Naslund brings a measure of dignity and moral complexity to her portrayal of a city that came to be known as ''Bombingham.'' If only history were quite so compassionate. — Will Blythe
Publishers Weekly
During the civil rights conflict, Birmingham, Ala., was notorious for the ferocity of its racial bigotry: peaceful demonstrators attacked with fire hoses and dogs by police chief Bull Connor; the Klan-set explosion at a black church that killed four little girls. The four victims are only background figures in Naslund's (Ahab's Wife) faithful and moving evocation of the city and the era, but they appear to several characters in the form of spirits who promise the reconciliation to come. The novel is constructed as a series of vignettes that follow a dozen or so characters whose lives finally intersect in entirely credible ways, and who serve as emblems of the divided citizens of Birmingham, some who bitterly fought integration and others who persevered in their struggle for equality. As such, it's a panorama of the social landscape of the Deep South during its violent crucible of change. Naslund, who grew up in Alabama, writes with a deep, instinctive compassion for the South's tragic heritage of racial hatred, and an understanding of the high toll paid by people committed to justice. She develops her plot in a leisurely fashion that initially may leave readers somewhat frustrated, but her method eventually pays off in stunning scenes, vivid with action, color and emotion, that recreate both the horror and the heroism. The characters pivot around Stella Silver, a white college student who is horrified by the glee in her community when JFK is assassinated, and who is moved to activism. In its authentic, balanced evocation of daily life across a wide spectrum of the black and white communities, this novel justifies its length and measured pace, and credibly renders the faith and courage that brought redemption to a blood-soaked city. Agent, Joy Harris. 21-city author tour. (Sept.) Forecast: Naslund treads familiar ground here, which may deflect a few readers, but her powers of synthesis and fidelity to historical detail could make this a big seller, on a par with Ahab's Wife. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Stella, a white Birmingham, AL, college student in the early 1960s, faces the problems of birth control, women's "liberation," peaceful protest, and civil and handicapped rights. She comes down on the liberal side but has no plans to become an activist. However, after the bombing of a Birmingham church that kills four black children, Stella and her friend Cat begin to teach night classes at the black high school, helping dropouts earn their GEDs. They overcome the resentment and suspicion of the black teachers and students only to be confronted by the Ku Klux Klan. A major tragedy at a peaceful sit-in pushes Stella firmly into the activist camp, where she finds her soul mate. As a youngster and a native of Birmingham, Naslund (Ahab's Wife) vowed to write about this pivotal time in history. She captures the confusion of emotions concerning the struggle for freedom from all sides of the picture; her depictions of hatred, anger, frustration, and courage will instruct or remind listeners of the explosive events of the time. One realizes that, despite today's problems, we have come a long way in the last 40 years. Beautifully read with a charming Southern accent by Isabel Keating, this novel is recommended for most libraries.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Providence Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-The author of Ahab's Wife (Morrow, 1999), a feminist corrective to Moby-Dick, has picked an equally ambitious subject for this novel: the racial injustice, hatred, and horror of Birmingham, AL, circa 1963. With a full cast of fictional characters, and a few historical figures (Police Commissioner Bull Connor, the Reverends Shuttlesworth, King, and Abernathy), Naslund weaves a busy but satisfying story of real and imagined events: lunch-counter sit-ins, fire-hosed demonstrators, police dogs at children's heels. The title refers to the spiritual presence (felt by several characters) of the four young girls who died in the horrendous bombing of their church. One matronly woman "sees" them as honeybees on roses, one bee to a rose. Because of this and other such contrivances, some readers might find the narrative strained, and the principal characters either too good or too horrible. For the most part, though, the author manages to keep this big story under control, in part by employing a measured narrative pace. There is plenty of value here for strong, informed teens. Undoubtedly, some readers will find the novel too slow, or too full of names and events, and thus confusing. But for those who can handle the mature themes, Four Spirits is an excellent history lesson, and a story not soon forgotten.-Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The earnest, accusatory latest from the versatile Alabama author (Ahab's Wife, 1999, etc.), this time about the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham in the annus horribilis of 1963 and thereafter. The bombing of a black church in which four young girls (the title's presiding "spirits") are killed and the ideal of nonviolent resistance preached by Martin Luther King provide the background for a busy melodrama in which a dozen or more prototypical black and white characters work out their individual and common destinies. The central figure is Stella Silver, orphaned since childhood and sympathetically attuned to the plight of second-class citizens-to the extent that she undertakes dangerous volunteer duty teaching at a school for black children. Stella is matched in nobility by her college friend, wheelchair-bound Catherine ("Cat") Cartwright, and by angry black colleague Christine Taylor. As the summer in "Bombingham" heats up, and injustices and atrocities multiply, other major roles are filled by heroic Korean War vet TJ La Fayt (the object of particularly virulent racial violence); Christine's sensitive and artistic prize pupil Gloria; KKK stalwart Ryder Jones and his abused wife Lee (whom Ryder tutors in bomb-making); and Stella's second fiancé (after she's dumped his insufficiently saintly predecessor), Cat's brother Don ("He was like Alan Ladd crossed with Rock Hudson"-hmmm). In case you're thinking the latter might have some redeeming human flaws, be advised that he's also a Peace Corps volunteer. Reverends King and Ralph Abernathy make cameo appearances, and the voice of Sheriff "Bull" Connor is heard throughout the land. Things end with the requisite sacrifices andmartyrdoms, and the death of a celestial black matriarch, who, like Faulkner's Dilsey, has "endured." As social protest, Four Spirits is commendably passionate and partisan; as fiction, it's overexplicit, contrived, and stocked with posturing, lecturing cardboard characters. A great subject, poorly treated. Surely Naslund can do better than this. Author tour. Agent: Joy Harris
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“This is a brave and multifaceted book, propelled by a mission, and ...it is a page-turner.”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“Naslund’s insight and craftsmanship ...capture the complexities and cultural nuances of the times.”
USA Weekend
“Filled with the fear Naslund witnessed, the characters ...come to life ....Naslund succeeds splendidly in making history a page-turner.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“...contains one of the most astonishing pieces of writing to appear in any novel of recent memory.
New York Times Book Review
“Vital and moving...It’s as if Virginia Woolf went down to Birmingham to cover the civil rights struggle.”
Denver Post
“...A compelling picture of the South and the civil rights movement during one of its pivotal moments.”
Detroit Free Press
“This is a wonderful, wonderful novel ...[Naslund] has blown a deep breath of life into Four Spirits.”
Louisville Courier Journal
“A major novel of great cultural and historical importance.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Crisp, insightful writing.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780066212388
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/14/2003
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Sena Jeter Naslund

Sena Jeter Naslund is a cofounder and program director of the Spalding University (Louisville) brief-residency MFA in Writing, where she edits The Louisville Review and Fleur-de-Lis Press. A winner of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction award, she is the author of eight previous works of fiction, including Ahab's Wife, a finalist for the Orange Prize. She recently retired from her position as Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville.

Biography

Sena Jeter Naslund grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, where she attended public schools and received a B.A. from Birmingham-Southern College. She has also lived in Louisiana, West Virginia, and California. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In addition to two other novels and two collections of short stories, her short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, the Michigan Quarterly Review and many others.

For 12 years she directed the Creative Writing Program at the University of Louisville, where she teaches and holds the title Distinguished Teaching Professor. Concurrently, she is a member of the M.F.A. in Writing faculty of Vermont College. She is cofounder and editor of the literary magazine The Louisville Review and the Fleur-de-lis Press, housed at Spaulding University, and has taught at the University of Montana and Indiana University. She is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

Good To Know

Naslund is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council.

She has taught literature since 1972, directing the creative writing program at University of Louisville, where she was awarded its first-ever Distinguished Teaching Professor honor.

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    1. Hometown:
      Louisville, Kentucky
    1. Education:
      B.A., Birmingham-Southern College; M.A., Ph.D. University of Iowa Writers' Workshop

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Stella

From many places in the valley that cradled birmingham you could lift up your eyes, in 1963, to see the gigantic cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, atop his stone pedestal. Silhouetted against the pale blue skyline, atop Red Mountain, Vulcan held up a torch in one outstretched, soaring arm. In other mountain ridges surrounding the city, the ore lay hidden, but the city had honored this outcropping of iron ore named Red Mountain, as a reminder of the source of its prosperity (such as it was -- most of the wealth of the steel industry was exported to magnates living in the great cities of the Northeast), by raising Vulcan high above the populace, south of the city.

Fanciful and well-educated children liked to pretend that Vulcan, who looked north, had a romance with the Statue of Liberty, also made of metal. But she was the largest such statue in the world, and he was second to her, and that violated the children's sense of romance, for they understood hierarchy in romance to be as natural as hierarchy among whites and blacks.

Looking down from Vulcan -- his pedestal housed stairs, and around the top of the tower ran an observation platform -- you could see the entire city of Birmingham filling the valley between the last ridges of the Appalachian mountain chain as it stretched from high in the northeast to southwest.

In early May 1963, Stella's freckle-faced boyfriend, a scant half inch taller (but therefore presentable as a boyfriend, if she wore flats), had persuaded her to drive from their college, across the city, avoiding the areas where Negroes were congregating for demonstrations, to Red Mountain. From the observation balcony just below Vulcan's feet, Stella and Darl hoped for a safe overview.

I believe if outsiders would just stay out ... Darl had told her. Let Birmingham solve ... Don't you?

But Stella hadn't answered. Instead, she'd said, I'd like to see. I'm afraid to go close.

We can go up on Vulcan, Darl had offered, for he was a man who wanted to accommodate women; a man who loved his mother. Stella had met her. He'd brought along his bird-watching binoculars. Darl could recognize birds by their songs alone; he could imitate each sound; he kept a life list of all the birds he had ever seen. His actual name was Darling, his mother's maiden name, and though Stella dared not call him Darling, she longed to do so.

"Do you know the average altitude for the flight of robins?" he asked.

A spurt of laughter flew from between Stella's lips. She imagined the giggle as though it had heft and was falling rapidly down from the pedestal, down the mountain, into the valley.

"I don't have the foggiest idea," she said.

"About thirty inches."

"What a waste!" she said. "To have the gift of flight and to fly so low."

She thought Darl might laugh at her sentence -- half serious, half comic -- but he didn't.

Stella glanced up the massive, shining body of Vulcan, past his classical and bare heinie, up his lifted arm to his unilluminated torch. At a distance, she had often observed that the nighttime neon "flame" made the torch resemble a Popsicle. Cherry red, if someone had died in an auto accident; lime green, otherwise. Even this close and looking up his skirt, Vulcan's frontal parts were completely covered by his short blacksmith's apron.

Though it was May and the police were already into short sleeves, on the open observation balcony, Darl and Stella were lifted above the heat into a layer of air with cool breezes. Stella wished she'd worn a sweater. Darl put his arm around her -- just for warmth, she told herself with determined naïveté, but she thrilled at his encircling arm diagonally crossing her back. His fingers fitted the spaces between her curving ribs. They were alone up in the air; they weren't some trashy couple smooching in public. Yes, this was what she had been wanting. Perhaps for years. Someone's arm around her, making her safe.

Stella knew her breasts were terribly small. If they had been plumper, Darl's fingertips might have found the beginnings of roundness. Sex, sex, sex, she thought. His hand slid down to her waist; her mind careened. Do I feel slender enough there? Inviting? With his other hand, Darl trained the binoculars on the city. With one finger, he adjusted the ridged wheel between the twin eyepieces. The black leather strap looped gracefully around the back of his neck.

Darl was the complete darling: a lover of nature, a lover of music, a lover of God, considerate, a gentleman -- if only he loved her. And best of all he was an organist, a master of the king of instruments. When Darl played Bach's "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," creating his own improvisations, Stella felt understood. It was she who had been wounded, and the music was what she missed and needed. The way Darl played promised wholeness, profundity. Almost it seemed that the spirit of her father was hovering around Darl and her on this high place.

She placed her hand just below Darl's waist; she shivered as though to say "I only seek closeness for warmth, against the chill." Her palm loved the unfamiliar grain of the cloth of his trousers, and underneath, the firm flesh of his buttock just beginning to flare. How tantalized her hand felt, the hand itself wishing it dare move down to know the curve of his butt. She glanced again at the side of his cheek, the binoculars trained on the city. His hair was a rich brown, and his freckles almost matched his hair.

She wanted to brush the field glasses aside, to stand in front of him ...


The foregoing is excerpted from Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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First Chapter

Four Spirits

Chapter One

Stella

From many places in the valley that cradled birmingham you could lift up your eyes, in 1963, to see the gigantic cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of the forge, atop his stone pedestal. Silhouetted against the pale blue skyline, atop Red Mountain, Vulcan held up a torch in one outstretched, soaring arm. In other mountain ridges surrounding the city, the ore lay hidden, but the city had honored this outcropping of iron ore named Red Mountain, as a reminder of the source of its prosperity (such as it was -- most of the wealth of the steel industry was exported to magnates living in the great cities of the Northeast), by raising Vulcan high above the populace, south of the city.

Fanciful and well-educated children liked to pretend that Vulcan, who looked north, had a romance with the Statue of Liberty, also made of metal. But she was the largest such statue in the world, and he was second to her, and that violated the children's sense of romance, for they understood hierarchy in romance to be as natural as hierarchy among whites and blacks.

Looking down from Vulcan -- his pedestal housed stairs, and around the top of the tower ran an observation platform -- you could see the entire city of Birmingham filling the valley between the last ridges of the Appalachian mountain chain as it stretched from high in the northeast to southwest.

In early May 1963, Stella's freckle-faced boyfriend, a scant half inch taller (but therefore presentable as a boyfriend, if she wore flats), had persuaded her to drive from their college, across the city, avoiding the areas where Negroes were congregating for demonstrations, to Red Mountain. From the observation balcony just below Vulcan's feet, Stella and Darl hoped for a safe overview.

I believe if outsiders would just stay out ... Darl had told her. Let Birmingham solve ... Don't you?

But Stella hadn't answered. Instead, she'd said, I'd like to see. I'm afraid to go close.

We can go up on Vulcan, Darl had offered, for he was a man who wanted to accommodate women; a man who loved his mother. Stella had met her. He'd brought along his bird-watching binoculars. Darl could recognize birds by their songs alone; he could imitate each sound; he kept a life list of all the birds he had ever seen. His actual name was Darling, his mother's maiden name, and though Stella dared not call him Darling, she longed to do so.

"Do you know the average altitude for the flight of robins?" he asked.

A spurt of laughter flew from between Stella's lips. She imagined the giggle as though it had heft and was falling rapidly down from the pedestal, down the mountain, into the valley.

"I don't have the foggiest idea," she said.

"About thirty inches."

"What a waste!" she said. "To have the gift of flight and to fly so low."

She thought Darl might laugh at her sentence -- half serious, half comic -- but he didn't.

Stella glanced up the massive, shining body of Vulcan, past his classical and bare heinie, up his lifted arm to his unilluminated torch. At a distance, she had often observed that the nighttime neon "flame" made the torch resemble a Popsicle. Cherry red, if someone had died in an auto accident; lime green, otherwise. Even this close and looking up his skirt, Vulcan's frontal parts were completely covered by his short blacksmith's apron.

Though it was May and the police were already into short sleeves, on the open observation balcony, Darl and Stella were lifted above the heat into a layer of air with cool breezes. Stella wished she'd worn a sweater. Darl put his arm around her -- just for warmth, she told herself with determined naïveté, but she thrilled at his encircling arm diagonally crossing her back. His fingers fitted the spaces between her curving ribs. They were alone up in the air; they weren't some trashy couple smooching in public. Yes, this was what she had been wanting. Perhaps for years. Someone's arm around her, making her safe.

Stella knew her breasts were terribly small. If they had been plumper, Darl's fingertips might have found the beginnings of roundness. Sex, sex, sex, she thought. His hand slid down to her waist; her mind careened. Do I feel slender enough there? Inviting? With his other hand, Darl trained the binoculars on the city. With one finger, he adjusted the ridged wheel between the twin eyepieces. The black leather strap looped gracefully around the back of his neck.

Darl was the complete darling: a lover of nature, a lover of music, a lover of God, considerate, a gentleman -- if only he loved her. And best of all he was an organist, a master of the king of instruments. When Darl played Bach's "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," creating his own improvisations, Stella felt understood. It was she who had been wounded, and the music was what she missed and needed. The way Darl played promised wholeness, profundity. Almost it seemed that the spirit of her father was hovering around Darl and her on this high place.

She placed her hand just below Darl's waist; she shivered as though to say "I only seek closeness for warmth, against the chill." Her palm loved the unfamiliar grain of the cloth of his trousers, and underneath, the firm flesh of his buttock just beginning to flare. How tantalized her hand felt, the hand itself wishing it dare move down to know the curve of his butt. She glanced again at the side of his cheek, the binoculars trained on the city. His hair was a rich brown, and his freckles almost matched his hair.

She wanted to brush the field glasses aside, to stand in front of him ...

Four Spirits. Copyright © by Sena Naslund. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Transporting us to a time and place that tested the American dream in unprecedented ways, Four Spirits portrays a remarkable group of women and men living in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1960s. This was the site of some of the nation's most brutal attempts to quash the Civil Rights movement, most horrifically in the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Yet Birmingham was also where a triumphant swell of courage was born, one that award-winning novelist Sena Jeter Naslund witnessed firsthand while coming of age there.

On the pages of Four Spirits, we meet an array of compelling characters -- black and white, racist and integrationist, rich and poor, pacifist and terrorist. Through these fictional faces, this astonishing fight for freedom emerges in a storyline that pays beautiful tribute to unrecognized heroes. By turns exhilarating and poignant, Four Spirits is a novel that is meant to bring readers together, stirring emotions, recollections, and vibrant conversation.

Discussion Topics

  1. Two quotations, one from William Faulkner and one from Victoria Gray, an African-American Mississippi civil rights activitist, mark the beginning of Four Spirits. What is the contemporary relevance of these epigraphs? In what way is America's past still present? Has the promise of a "rich harvest" been fulfilled?

  2. The novel's prelude presents the only scenes in which Stella's parents are with her in the present, rather than with her through memories. In what way do the events of that day both disable and sustain her throughout her life?

  3. Discuss the conceptof destiny in terms of the book's characters. T.J., for example, survived combat overseas and returned home to become a protector in his community. Yet he lost his job when he attempted to register to vote. Lee became embroiled in her husband's violent plots and eventually needed Aunt Pratt to help her find the way home (literally and symbolically). How does a combination of choice and chance create the fates of such characters as Catherine, Gloria, Lionel, Jonathan, and Stella?

  4. Compare the three men who win Stella's affection. How does each one contribute to her growth throughout the novel?

  5. How does the book compare to your understanding or recollections of this time period? What did you discover about Birmingham and the Civil Rights Movement that you hadn't known before? How would you have responded had you been in the various characters' situations?

  6. The author gives us an unflinching glimpse of a Klansman's perspective. What motivates Ryder to torture innocent strangers, as well as his wife? In your opinion, what are the roots of this behavior in general?

  7. The novel underscores the role of unjust laws and corrupt law enforcement officials in perpetuating Birmingham's bloodshed. How did Civil Rights proponents overcome these tremendous disadvantages? Where did they find power?

  8. Sena Jeter Naslund vividly recreates the surreal aura that followed John F. Kennedy's assassination. In what way are Stella's experiences that day a reflection of the nation's reaction to tragedy as a whole?

  9. Cultural icons and religion form a significant backdrop in Four Spirits. The intellectual canon features philosophers, scientists, composers, and literary lions. The spiritual references form a tapestry including Stella's memories of her mother singing in Hebrew; existential skepticism; spiritual intuitions on the parts of Stella, Agnes, Lionel, and Charlotte; traditional Christian faith and the evangelical preaching of Lionel Parrish. How do the realms of thought and faith interact in Four Spirits?

  10. The act of mentoring is crucial to many of the novel's characters. During his youth, Edmund strove to be one of the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth's protégés; Catherine finds inspiration in her brother; Christine attempts to mentor Gloria. Who has been your mentor? What would you like to teach future generations about life?

  11. Christine, Arcola, Catherine, and Charles make a heavy sacrifice together at the White Palace. In her author's note, Sena Jeter Naslund reminds us of the numerous real-life figures who lost their lives during this chapter in history. What can society do to ensure that they didn't die in vain, and that such bloodshed will be not be repeated in the future?

  12. Discuss the literary devices Sena Naslund uses to enhance her storytelling: compact, intense chapters; widely varied points of view; the treatment of time; poetic chapter titles; carefully divided sections; a prelude and a postlude. What is the effect of these details?

  13. Four Spirits is filled with intriguing cameo characters, such as department store owner Mr. Fielding, many aunts, and the waiter who dances with Catherine. What makes even these minor roles significant in the context of this particular storyline?

  14. Though Four Spirits and Ahab's Wife span extraordinarily different time periods, do any of the characters experience similar predicaments? How do these two novels complement Sena Naslund's body of work?

  15. Two vivid scenes mark the novel's conclusion: the burning of Jonathan's car, and the ascension of Charlotte. What did these images evoke? What is the significance of giving Charlotte the last word?

About the Author

Winner of the Harper Lee Award, Sena Jeter Naslund is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories, including the critically acclaimed national bestseller Ahab's Wife. She is a Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville, program director of the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in writing in Louisville and 2003 Vacca Professor at the University of Montevallo, Alabama. She is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, educated in the public schools, Birmingham-Southern College, and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2006

    Loved it!

    I tore through this book in two days it was so hard to put down. I had read and loved Ahab's Wife and was definitely not disappointed by Four Spirits.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2004

    I remember so much of this history

    This was a heartwrenching story for me. I grew up in Birmingham in the 50s and 60s, during the time depicted so vividly in this searing novel. In fact, I lived on the same boulevard where Stella lived, went to the same high school, and in fact learned-- after having this book recommended to me by someone who knew I grew up in Birmingham-- that the author's brother and I graduated from there the same year. (She is his younger sister). During this time period I was myopically living the life of a middle class young white girl, totally untouched by the struggles of the times, by the fear, the suffering, the heroism, the humanity of those central to the struggle for human rights and dignity. By reading this book I was able to relive my past from a whole different perspective. What a gift!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2003

    just as gripping as ahab's wife

    I could not put the book down! I wasn't around in the 60s, but the raw emotion on the pages of this book made me feel like I was. Naslund is a fantastic writer. Her characters have depth; her plots are deep and meaningful. She questions the values the lay at the core of humanity. A must read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2014

    Enjoyed the different view points

    It is always interesting to read different viewpoints on the same events

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2010

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