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Oprah's Book Club: "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones

Oprah's Book Club author Tayari Jones
Tayari Jones on inspiration behind "An American Marriage" 06:11

Only on "CBS This Morning," Oprah Winfrey is revealing her latest book club pick: "An American Marriage." As Tayari Jones' fourth novel, the work of fiction is being described as "a love story warped by racial injustice."

Winfrey said she discovered the book "after much, much, much searching."

"I have to tell you, it is intriguing. It's a love story that also has a huge layer of suspense. And it's also so current and so really now that I could not put it down and I've already passed it on to lots of my friends and so I know – certainly believe – that you're gonna love it," Winfrey said. 

Jones, who said receiving the call from Winfrey was the "most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in my life," said she was trying to write a novel that was "timely" and "dealing with the issues of the day." She happened upon a couple at a mall in Atlanta who sparked her inspiration. 

"They were obviously in love and in trouble," Jones said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." The woman was beautifully dressed, she said, but the man "just looked like he had had a long day – perhaps even a long life even though they are the same age."

Tayari Jones CBS News

"She said, 'Roy, you know you wouldn't have waited on me for seven years.' And I was intrigued because I didn't know Roy, but I felt fairly confident that he wouldn't wait on her for seven years. But he said, 'What are you talking about? This wouldn't have happened to you in the first place,'" Jones recounted. 

In her novel, Jones chronicles the story of newlyweds Celestial and Roy. Eighteen months into their marriage, Roy is arrested for a crime does not commit. 

"He is given a lengthy sentence that's over 10 times the time they've been married. But they are married. And so the question is, can this marriage survive? Even if this marriage doesn't survive, can this relationship survive? Then can this man survive?" Jones said. 

You can use these discussion questions to guide you through the book: 

  1. The title of this novel is An American Marriage. Do you feel this title accurately represents the novel? Why or why not? And if you do find the title appropriate, what about the story makes it particularly "American"?
  2. When Celestial asks Roy if he would have waited for her for more than five years, he doesn't answer her question but reminds her that, as a woman, she would not have been imprisoned in the first place. Do you feel that his response is valid, and do you think it justifies his infidelity? Do you believe that he would have remained faithful if Celestial had been the one incarcerated? Does this really matter, and, if so, why?
  3. In her "Dear John" letter to Roy, Celestial says, "I will continue to support you, but not as your wife." What do you think she means by this statement? Do you feel that Roy is wrong to reject her offer?
  4. You may not have noticed that Tayari Jones does not specify the race of the woman who accuses Roy of rape. How did you picture this woman? What difference does the race of this woman make in the way you understand the novel's storyline?
  5. Andre insists that he doesn't owe Roy an apology for the way his relationship with Celestial changed. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  6. There are two father figures in Roy's life: Big Roy is the one who shepherded him into adulthood and helped him grow into a responsible, capable person, but Walter is the one who taught Roy how to survive. Do you feel these men deserve equal credit? If not, which was the more important figure in Roy's life and why?
  7. Big Roy explains that he and Olive never had children of their own because Olive feared that he would not love Roy as much if he has is "own" children. Do you feel she should have had the right to make that decision? And do you feel she was right in making that decision?
  8. When Roy is released from prison, he first goes to his childhood home and almost immediately makes a connection with Davina. Do you feel that given the tenuous relationship he has with Celestial—who is still legally his wife—he is cheating? Why or why not? And when Roy announces to Davina his intention to return to his wife, do you feel that her anger is justified?
  9. Roy is hurt when Celestial, in discussing her career as an artist, doesn't mention him or the role he played in giving her the encouragement and freedom to follow her dreams, but Walter argues that she is justified in her silence. Do you agree? Do you think her silence is due to shame, or is she just being practical in how she presents herself to advance her career?
  10. It is obvious that Andre is different from Roy in many ways. Do you feel that ultimately he is a better match for Celestial? If so, why? Also, why do you think Celestial and Andre decide against formally marrying? Do you think that as a couple they will be good and nurturing parents? Do you feel that as a couple, they will be better at parenting than Celestial and Roy would have been? If so, why?
  11. Do you think that Andre strategized to get Celestial to fall in love with him, or did it happen naturally? Do you feel that it was a surprise to them that it happened after all those years? Do you predict that Celestial's parents will come to accept Andre as her life partner?
  12. Toward the end of the novel, Celestial does a complete about-face and returns to Roy? What do you think her emotions were in coming to that decision? Do you feel that it was the right decision? 

Other Oprah's Book Club authors: 

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