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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Ladies' Gallery: A Memoir of Family Secrets

1. As she grows up, Irene’s opinion of what a woman is or should be changes often. How do the various women in Irene’s life influence her thinking? How is her opinion skewed (or is it)?

2. Why did Lolita Lebrón abandon her family and immigrate to America in 1941? Are her actions seen as selfless or selfish (or both)?

3. What is Vilar’s opinion toward her grandmother’s act of defiance against the U.S. government?

4. The Ladies’ Gallery is an intimate, honest look at the author’s family. What challenges do you think Vilar faced in writing about issues such as violence, infidelity, and death among the people she loves? The Ladies’ Gallery’s subtitle is A Memoir Of Family Secrets. Why do you think Vilar was interested in revealing those secrets?

5. How does Irene’s view of her mother change after her death?

6. Vilar writes that one of her family’s favorite sayings is “Rub it out and start from scratch” (24). In what ways does Irene employ this strategy

7. Do Vilar’s own emotions come through in her writing or is her telling of events evenhanded? Were you distracted by her emotions (or lack thereof)? Are there moments in The Ladies’ Gallery in which you felt Vilar was holding back events or emotions, either about herself or her family?

8. Of all the places Irene has lived (New Hampshire, Spain, Puerto Rico, among others), where does she feel most at home? Does she ever feel fully at home?

9. In what ways are Lolita’s imprisonment and Irene’s hospitalization similar? Did Irene’s mother face any such situation or isolation?

10. What events led Irene to be committed?

11. Does Irene benefit from her hospitalization? Do any of the people she encounters leave lasting impressions?

12. Throughout The Ladies’ Gallery, we see instances in which Irene struggles with the concept that she is from America, especially when among her friends in Spain. Why does Irene have trouble seeing herself as an “American”? Do you see her as one?

13. Vilar chose to break her story into intertwining vignettes that alternate in time and perspective. What are the advantages or disadvantages of this form?

14. Vilar writes early in the memoir that “Repetition informs my life” (2). She later states that she is “blacklisted by repetitions” (281). What evidence do you find of this being true?

15. The Ladies’ Gallery takes its title from the area above the U.S. House of Representatives where Lolita and her compatriots carried out their attack. Why do you think Vilar chose this for the book’s title?

The Ladies' Gallery: A Memoir of Family Secrets
by Irene Vilar

  • Publication Date: October 6, 2009
  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590513231
  • ISBN-13: 9781590513231