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The Burning

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About The Book

Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this unforgettable, “relevant, and entertaining” (Fredrik Backman, New York Times bestselling author) debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world.

Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenage love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and rebellions against hopeless parents continue to play out.

Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenage daughter who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.

“A devilish twist on climate fiction” (Publishers Weekly), The Burning eloquently illustrates a picture of a very near future that is at once extraordinary and entirely realistic.

The Burning was previously published as Even If Everything Ends.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Even If Everything Ends includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book

Introduction

Life goes on in the face of a climate crisis in this astonishing and unforgettable debut novel that follows four characters as they struggle to survive in a burning world. Even when the climate crisis escalates beyond our worst nightmares and people become refugees, the world keeps turning and life carries on as usual: teenage love stories, marital collapses, identity crises, and revolts against hopeless parents continue to play out.

Didrik is a forty-year-old media consultant whose misguided efforts to become the family hero render him a pathetic vision of masculine incompetence. Melissa is an influencer with a suitcase full of lost dreams after denying climate change for years. André is the nineteen-year-old loser son of an international sports star, who uses the erupting violence around him to orchestrate his own personal vengeance on his negligent father. And Vilja is Didrik’s teenaged daughter, who steps into a leadership role in the face of adult ineptitude.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. One of the themes throughout the novel is how a feeling of helplessness has allowed people to rely on younger generations to fix the problems of the future. What examples, big or small, do we see of that in the book?

2. When Melissa visits her mother in the care facility, her mom refuses to order meat from the menu, citing that she has to “do my bit for the planet” (p. 135). Melissa doesn’t understand this, since the animal has already been slaughtered. Where do you stand on her mother’s decision? Do you agree that it’s okay to eat the meat because it is already there, or do you think abstaining will make an impact somehow?

3. Melissa gets lost after venturing out of the apartment in the hopes of picking up a refill of her prescription. She describes the city as being “at a standstill” and likens the seemingly endless traffic to “tin cans littering the ground by an overflowing recycling station” (p. 187). Overflowing recycling and trash bins are a common image in our everyday lives. Has this become so normal that we have become collectively numb to the fact that we are filling the earth with garbage?

4. After Didrik smashes the windows of the train to allow passengers to exit, he desires recognition and reward. Discuss this mindset and how it can be detrimental or helpful to how we interact with the world and people around us.

5. André and Jennie, Anders’ gardener, often discuss the state of the world, and the past versus the future. They discuss “how easy it was to avert our eyes from evil, fear, and darkness, but most of all from our responsibility to see the world as it is” (p. 309). How do you feel about this statement?

6. The four main characters respond quite differently to the deterioration of the world around them. Didrik finds himself wanting—but failing—to care for those closest to him; Melissa values individual happiness over everything else; André grows increasingly despondent and angry; and Vilja takes charge. Which character to you most empathize with, and why?

7. “Fucking live with it” is a phrase said often throughout the novel by the younger generation. Discuss how this reflects their collective feeling about the world and the generations who are older than they are.

8. Anders tells André that his mother used to cite a Native American proverb: “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” (p. 241). Discuss the meaning of this quote and how, as a collective, we could possibly benefit from a shift to this mindset.

9. Another theme throughout the novel is the human tendency to accept current circumstances and just endure. How do we do this every day on both an individual and a collective level?

10. After Carola, Didrik’s wife, confronts Melissa about their affair, she parts by saying, “Choose joy” (p. 215). Why do you think she chooses this phrase?

11. After André steals his father’s boat and sets sail with his new crewmates, he reflects upon the difficulty of forcing people who spend their entire lives living comfortably to recognize that the climate crisis is real. Instead he offers, “We need to teach them that the worst thing isn’t what nature is going to do to us, it’s what we’re going to do to each other”(p. 298). Discuss what you think André means by this. Do you agree or disagree?

12. When we meet Vilja at the beginning of the book, she is a pretty typical teenager. Discuss her evolution and how the circumstances she faces contributes to the person she turns into by the end of the book.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Imagine living in the circumstances of the novel. Your book club has been tasked with organizing and running a camp for climate refugees. Assign a job to each member and discuss how you would work together to ensure the safety, well-being, and happiness of your camp.

2. Together, research if there are any local organizations that focus on bettering the environment of your community. What are your suggestions for improvement? Or if your community does not have such an organization, consider creating one. What would be the mission of your organization?

3. Reflect on what you do in your daily life to contribute to your carbon footprint. Do you think you can improve upon this? With your group, create some goals and see if you can support each other in achieving them.

4. Think about what the world might look like in one hundred or two hundred years. What do you think the people of that time will wish we had done to make the world and the environment more livable for them?

About The Author

Fredrik Hjerling

Jens Liljestrand is a critically acclaimed journalist and writer in his native Sweden. He has been a critic for the newspapers Sydsvenskan and Dagens Nyheter and was a long-serving editor of the culture section of Expressen. His bestselling biography about Vilhelm Moberg, The Man in the Woods, was nominated for the prestigious August Prize. The Burning (previously published as Even If Everything Ends) is his first novel.

Why We Love It

“Stories about the end of the world have always fascinated us. Apocalyptic novels entertain because they feel so distant from the world we live in. NOT THIS ONE. This is a family novel struck through with humor, but it is nervous laughter. Because Jens Liljestrand has nailed the terrifying truth which is that even as the world literally? ends, it is the great tragedy of the human to condition to wonder, ‘but what does it mean...FOR ME?’ If Greta Thunberg and Jonathan Franzen wrote a novel: this would be it. I couldn’t put it down, and it has stayed with me ever since.”

—Alison C., VP, Executive Editor, on Even If Everything Ends

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press (May 7, 2024)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668005026

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