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Reading Group Guide for Foul Lady Fortune
By Chloe Gong About the Book
Rosalind Lang survives scarlet fever with an experimental medication that grants her ultra-fast healing and perpetual youth. Four years later in 1931 Shanghai, Rosalind is still nineteen years old and using her powers as an assassin for the Nationalist faction, hunting their enemies and the city’s remaining White Flowers, members of a disbanded Russian street gang. Amid the violence of a civil war, the Imperial Japanese Army prepares to invade China and has seemingly set loose a serial killer attacking civilians in Chinese territories of the city. Rosalind is assigned to a new mission, one where she poses as wife to Orion Hong, also a Nationalist spy. What follows is a thrilling espionage to uncover conspiracies, seek redemption, and save what remains of the city Rosalind and Orion both love all while acknowledging their developing feelings for each other.Discussion Questions
1. Orion tells Oliver “‘Treason is not inherited’” and works hard to make sure the Kuomintang can trust him and his family again, yet he decides to protect his brother instead of reporting Oliver’s presence in their family home. We see these loyalties to family and close friends cause conflict throughout the book, especially when Oliver tells Celia, “‘I can’t push for revolution and hold it back at the same time.’” (Chapter thirty-eight) How do interpersonal relationships impact people’s decisions and moral values? Have you ever disagreed on an issue with a friend or family member that had the potential to ruin the relationship? How do you decide where your loyalty lies? Is loyalty more important than other values? Discuss as a class.
2. “Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps
—this was a game that haunted Rosalind late into her eternal nights, a useless exercise of cataloging everything she’d done wrong to end up where she was today.” (Chapter one) Can you relate to Rosalind in this situation? Why is this a useless exercise? What could she, or you, do instead?
3. Both Rosalind and Orion seek redemption throughout the book at the risk of forsaking their personal well-being. How do you define redemption? Can redemption be achieved on one’s own? How might Rosalind or Orion achieve a redemption arc? Do they get it by the end of the book? Provide a rationale for your answers.
4. Celia notes that Audrey is only fifteen, after Oliver insists she not go so easy on Audrey since they are “‘training agents, not babies.’” Consider your own age: Would you be capable of acting as a spy and holding the responsibility Audrey does? Are there places today where fifteen-year-olds are involved in wars? What are the circumstances that force young people to grow up faster?
5. Rosalind is able to find a newspaper from four years prior in Lao Lao’s home. Given that the internet did not exist in 1931, discuss how information may have been shared back then. Consider Lao Lao as an elder in Rosalind’s life. In what ways do elders act as record keepers, even now? Explain your answer.
6. The Imperial Japanese Army attempts to destabilize Shanghai as a means to occupying the entirety of China. Using examples from the text, determine why Shanghai is so important, the different tactics Japanese imperialists used, and how Western participation played a role in this strategy.
7. Rosalind and Orion are described as dealing with their emotions in opposite ways, with Rosalind being open and up front and Orion internalizing his feelings. How do they influence each other as the plot moves forward? Why do they express themselves in these ways? Support your answer with examples from the text.
8. Zilin waves off his colleagues’ concerns of a serial killer by stating “‘Maybe we should have been afraid when it was a bunch of lawless crooks leading us, but now we have order. We have Western innovation.’” (Chapter sixteen) Is Shanghai safer with politicians ruling the streets instead of gangsters? What harm does “Western innovation” cause to the city?
9. Rosalind muses that both she and Alisa worked for their respective political factions not because they cared for it, but because “they took on the burden for the sake of what that faction could provide.” (Chapter twenty) What does each faction provide them? Do Alisa and Rosalind have a shared goal? Expand on your answer.
10. In Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It
, a theme runs through that examines “court life” and “country life.” This theme appears in Foul Lady Fortune
when Rosalind and Celia dress up as members of the elite and attend social events or access monitored spaces but then easily return to their lives as secret agents. Discuss how class privilege plays into this ability to navigate different social settings. Could a poor person or someone from the country do the same? Explain your answer.
11. The book demonstrates the impassioned conflict between Oliver and Orion. How do their parents’ actions influence this conflict? How does Phoebe’s gender as a girl and her role as a daughter differ from her brothers’ roles in the family? Do you have certain expectations placed on you due to your gender in your family or in society? Use examples from the text and your own experiences to explain.
12. When speaking of her former coworker, Yо̄ko, Rosalind concludes “the girl didn’t know the difference between personal hatred and the burning resentment Rosalind had for the empire that had sent Yо̄ko here. Even if she wasn’t to blame, she would feel its heat all the same.” (Chapter forty-two) Explain what Rosalind means. Are civilians of an imperialist empire complicit? Discuss as a class.
13. When you learn of Dao Feng’s true allegiance, consider why he paired Rosalind and Orion together as High Tide. Did he know of their shared experience as test subjects for the chemical weapon? What do you think his intentions were for the duo? Explain your answers.
14. Rosalind concludes that “‘power is more important than anything else. You can’t fight for your values without power first.’” (Chapter forty-five) Do you agree? Give a rationale for your answer.
15. Why did the killer choose to perform experiments on people in Chinese territory? How would the story be different if test subjects were Japanese, British, American, or French?
16. How is Rosalind’s pseudo-immortality a metaphor for her grief, survivor’s guilt, and guilt for betraying her family and city?
19. “Celia had entered Communist circles with the name that she had chosen for herself rather than return to being Kathleen.” (Chapter two) Celia leaving the Scarlet Gang behind affords her the chance to become her own person. Describe Celia’s character development over the course of the book.
20. Rosalind is chided for being a “modern girl,” which is effectively a way to stereotype and dismiss her autonomy. Even in her cover as Orion’s wife, she doesn’t get a name, only “Mrs. Mu.” Provide examples for how she defies gender roles and breaks out of the box women are placed in.
21. Two friends discuss the concept of Pan-Asianism over drinks, arguing the benefits of uniting all of Asia as a combined power against Europe. One friend says, “‘The trouble has been with the Western foreigners for some time, but are you naive enough to think they alone carry the problem? . . . The problem is any empire that thinks it can swallow others into its rule.’” (Chapter ten) The book takes an anti-imperialist stance and uses this scene as an example. What other examples from the text address anti-imperialism? What examples show the tension between different cultures in Asia?Extension Activities
1. Celia’s mission is to draw maps for the Communist party and compare them for accuracy with her team’s renditions. With a partner, choose a room in your school to map individually. Then come together and compare your maps. What unit of measurement did you use, and how did you determine a legend? What landmarks did you record? What are the similarities and differences? What were each of your processes for creating your map? Are maps objective? Discuss your findings as a class.
2. Foul Lady Fortune
stays true to its spin on Shakespeare’s play As You Like It
by following the relationships between siblings Rosalind and Celia, and Oliver and Orion. Write an essay which compares each relationship to how they are shown in the play. Address how Gong’s retelling builds the relationships through character, plot, setting, and style.
3. Dao Feng and Rosalind discuss how the Japanese press reported Chinese troops as the cause for an explosion that allowed the Japanese invasion of Manchuria even though that was not true. It becomes clear how easy it is to spread disinformation on the press’s end and misinformation on the public’s end. Watch this brief video by Blair Imani titled, “What’s the difference between misinformation and disinformation.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHeVBGyhHR0
) Then work in groups to choose a current event and track how information about it is shared. Pay close attention to multiple news sources, the article titles, and discussions on social media to pinpoint if and how disinformation/misinformation is happening.
4. In many ways, Foul Lady Fortune
is a murder mystery with a historical spy thriller theme. In groups, identify the major points of the story: exposition, conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution. Then design a murder mystery game that addresses these points. Think about what each character would say to guide players toward discovering the murderer. Create scripts for each character and marketing visuals and include a location for hosting the event.
5. The book begins four years after a revolution that sent China into a civil war between Communist and Nationalist factions. Take time to research the history of China between 1927 and 1931. Choose a character from the book and write a chapter flashback set during a major event that occurred between those four years.Guide written by Cynthia Medrano, librarian and member of Rise: A Feminist Book Project Committee. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.