*If you are new here, WELCOME! For The Two Lives of Sara, I provide your book club with a brief summary, food ideas and a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
The Two Lives of Sara is Catherine Adel West’s sophomore novel. Her debut, Saving Ruby King, released two years ago–a timely novel about a young black girl in Chicago whose mother is murdered.
The Two Lives of Sara follows a young woman in trouble as she struggles to deal with her painful past, hopeful for a better future.
The novel is set in Memphis. As someone who lived in Memphis for several years, I really enjoyed reading this book. and the setting rang true to me.
Set in the 1960s at the cusp of the civil rights movement, the book isn’t actually all that political. Although there are snippets throughout.
Instead, West focuses on the day-to-day struggles of Sara and her newfound family at the Scarlet Poplar. I appreciated how West used to the ordinary lives of her characters to showcase broader themes. This was especially true in the way each character grapples with faith in the midst of tragedy.
While some of the characters made choices that were difficult to read about, I enjoyed this novel.
If you like Brit Bennett, you’ll find West’s writing comparable. I felt like I was in the hands of a great writer. And I know more of West’s books are in my future (keep writing, Catherine Adel West!).
I encourage you to read this book or West’s first novel, Saving Ruby King. There is so much nuance to each of her characters and so many themes to discuss that you’re sure to have a lively discussion.
The Two Lives of Sara is a novel chosen through Book Club Bites collaboration with The Best of Women’s Fiction podcast. Check out the fabulous podcast where Catherine Adel West discusses The Two Lives of Sara and more: HERE.
I’ve provided book club questions and delicious food ideas for The Two Lives of Sara and Catherine Adel West was kind enough to provide a special recipe for you! So if you are looking for book club ideas and more, keep reading!
Check out these fun bookish gadgets…
Here’s a brief summary of The Two Lives of Sara:
From the Publisher: “In 1960s Memphis, a young mother finds refuge in a boardinghouse where family encompasses more than just blood, and hidden truths can bury you or set you free.
Sara King has nothing, save for her secrets and the baby in her belly, as she boards the bus to Memphis, hoping to outrun her past in Chicago. She is welcomed with open arms by Mama Sugar, a kindly matriarch and owner of the popular boardinghouse The Scarlet Poplar.
Like many cities in early 1960s America, Memphis is still segregated, but change is in the air. News spreads of the Freedom Riders. Across the country, people like Martin Luther King Jr. are leading the fight for equal rights. Black literature and music provide the stories and soundtrack for these turbulent and hopeful times, and Sara finds herself drawn in by conversations of education, politics and a brighter tomorrow with Jonas, a local schoolteacher. Romance blooms between them, but secrets from Mama Sugar’s past threaten their newfound happiness and lead Sara to make decisions that will reshape the rest of their lives.
With a charismatic cast of characters, The Two Lives of Sara is an emotional and unforgettable story of hope, the limitations of resilience and unexpected love.”
For The Two Lives of Sara Food Ideas:
Oh man. There is so much soul food mentioned in this book. Since the novel takes place in a boarding house, we get a good glimpse at what food was served there.
This list is rich with comfort and calories. Peruse the options here, then scroll down to check out the recipe for NOT dry pound cake provided by Catherine Adel West!
Here are a few of the food ideas from the pages of The Two Lives of Sara:
- Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and caramel cake the night Amos comes home beaten up
- Barbecue, greens, potato salad, caramel cake, pineapple upside down cake, and pound cake at the revival
- Pulled pork barbecue sandwiches with colas on Sara’s first date with Jonas
- Ribs, ham, chicken, both fried and smothered; pinto beans with ham hocks, candied yams; potato salad, pineapple upside down cake, caramel cake and chocolate cake at the wedding
- Blackened catfish, Okra, Mac ’n’ cheese, and mashed potatoes after the hospital
Catherine Adel West was kind enough to provide a family recipe for pound cake for us! Don’t worry, it’s not dry like Sister Dorothy Ann’s in the novel. We’ve all had one of those…
Trust me when I say you’ll want to bake this cake for your book club!
Whether you choose something from this list or try your own option, I hope these food ideas will get your creative juices flowing to host your book club for The Two Lives of Sara!
A few tips on cooking Non-dry, Super-Moist Pound Cake:
1) Catherine isn’t lying about this being a super moist cake. Make sure that you spray your pan well so that the batter doesn’t stick (mine did a little). I recommend Baker’s Joy, if you haven’t tried it.
2) Dust with powdered sugar for extra effect. Or don’t. It’s totally up to you and only to dress up the cake, not to add flavor.
3) Have plenty of beverages on hand. This thing is super rich.
Be sure to use these tips on this fabulous recipe when you host your book club for The Two Lives of Sara!
Moist Pound Cake Recipe:
Super-Moist Pound Cake
- Bundt pan
- 3 cups flour
- 3 cups sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups softened butter
- 6 eggs
- 8 ounces sour cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Coat Bundt cake pan with baking spray of your choosing.
- Mix butter, sugar and eggs in one bowl.
- Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in another bowl.
- Combine both wet and dry ingredients.
- Add in the sour cream and vanilla extract. Mix everything until fully incorporated.
- Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
More Fun from Catherine Adel West:
Please insert a short description of your recipe and why it relates to your novel. Include any information you think readers would enjoy!
This is a rich, moist delicious pound cake recipe. In the book there’s a running joke about a woman at the church, named Sister Dorothy Ann, who makes pound cake, but it’s really dry and no one eats it, but it’s presented on all church occasions because she’s a church elder.
If you would like to credit someone besides yourself for the recipe, please do so here.
My cousin Tiffany made this pound cake and I eat every scrap when she does!
Good food and a good book go hand-in-hand. What is your favorite food to enjoy while reading?
I don’t normally eat when reading, but if I feel a craving, it’s usually banana pudding or a slice of chocolate cake from Magnolia Bakery.
Did you sample any interesting food while researching this book? Or experience anything exciting while researching?
Most of the food mentioned in The Two Lives of Sara is food with rich African-American heritage so I’ve eaten most of those dishes many, MANY times already.
The Two Lives of Sara Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- There are a lot of secondary characters who form a community that makes this novel memorable. Who was your favorite? Why?
- What did you think of the setting? If you are familiar with Memphis, especially during the late 1960s, discuss what rang true and anything that didn’t. Was there anything you wanted to see more of?
- Cora encouraged Sara to keep moving until the next good thing. We can either choose to see life as moving from good thing to good thing or bad thing to bad thing (as Sara often chooses). Discuss this outlook as it played out in the book and as you’ve dealt with it in your own life.
- Sara makes some tough choices to read about. How did you feel about her in the end? Why do you think she couldn’t see that her unfairness towards Lebanon echoed the own unfairness she battled all her life?
- Good faith, corrupt faith, lack of faith and more were discussed in the book. West does not shy away from illuminating the difficulty of having faith in the face of tragedy. Which character did you most relate to in regards to their stance on faith? Did you walk away with any new insights?
- Jonas and Mama Sugar love Sara despite her efforts to push them away. But in the end, Sara rejects Mama Sugars attempts to love her. Why do you think she won’t accept Mama Sugar’s (or The Scarlet House community’s) love?
- There were many books discussed throughout the novel. Have you read any of them? Did you notice any correlating themes?
Find Catherine Adel West:
Catherine can be found at these places online!
Twitter and Instagram under the handle @cawest329
Have you read The Two Lives of Sara? What did you think? Did it satisfy you or were you left wishing for more? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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