Chicken Dreaming Corn

A Novel by Roy Hoffman

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About the book

In 1916, on the immigrant blocks of the Southern port city of Mobile, Alabama, a Romanian Jewish shopkeeper, Morris Kleinman, is sweeping his walk in preparation for the Confederate veterans parade about to pass by. “Daddy?” his son asks, “are we Rebels?” “Today?” muses Morris. “Yes, we are Rebels.” Thus opens a novel set, like many, in a languid Southern town. But, in a rarity for Southern novels, this one centers on a character who mixes Yiddish with his Southern and has for his neighbors small merchants from Poland, Lebanon, and Greece.

At turns lyrical, comic, and melancholy, the tale takes inspiration from its title. This Romanian expression with an Alabama twist is symbolic of the strivings of ordinary folks for the realization of their hopes and dreams. Set largely on a few humble blocks yet engaging many parts of the world, this Southern Jewish novel is, ultimately, richly American.

About the author

Roy Hoffman is the author of the novel Almost Family, winner of the Lillian Smith Award for fiction, and the nonfiction collection Back Home. A native of Mobile, Alabama, he worked in New York City for twenty years as a journalist, speechwriter, and teacher, before returning to the South as staff writer at the Mobile Register. Hoffman’s reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Fortune, Southern Living, and other publications. He lives in Fairhope, Alabama, and travels to Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches in the brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University.

For discussion

  1. 1. The novel opens in 1916 with Morris Kleinman, a Romanian Jew, sweeping a sidewalk in south Alabama, anticipating a parade of Confederate veterans. Does this strike you as an unusual juxtaposition of images? Does a scene like this one seem in keeping with the usual notion of a “Southern novel”?
  3. Harper Lee has said of Chicken Dreaming Corn that it portrays “characters who represent some of the best aspects of our Southern heritage.” What do you think she means by that statement?
  5. Has Chicken Dreaming Corn shown you any aspects of the South, good or bad, that you find surprising? Has the novel changed your sense of the South in terms of the diversity of its population? Has it altered your perceptions of Jewish culture in terms of the story’s setting?
  7. Is Morris Kleinman an outsider in Mobile? Does his status as “insider” or “outsider” change in the course of the novel? What about Miriam? The children?
  9. Morris and Miriam, separately, go through phases in their convictions that home is either far away, in Brooklyn or Romania, or, by contrast, right beneath their feet, in Mobile and the Gulf Coast. How do they show this? What incidents take place that affect their feelings about home and where home truly is?
  11. Hoffman dedicates his novel, in part, to the memory of his grandparents, who, he writes, “journeyed so far to find home.” What kinds of journeys, of the body or the spirit, take place in Chicken Dreaming Corn? Where do these journeys lead the characters in terms of geography of place, and also of the heart?
  13. Do Abe and Herman journey together, or apart? Both?
  15. Morris tells Abe that his ambition, as a store owner, is “to make a living, not a killing.” How do Morris and Abe differ in their business attitudes? Do they achieve any reconciliation?
  17. Why do you think Donnie McCall seems at first to be Morris’s friend, then turns against him? Is there anything in particular about Morris that especially aggravates McCall? Is there anything about McCall that Morris finds disturbing?
  19. Pablo Pastor’s cigars take on significance in many ways in the course of the novel. How so?
  21. Does Morris grow in the course of this novel? Do Miriam, Abe, Herman, and Hannah?
  23. What perspective do Benny and Fanny offer on the Kleinman family? On Alabama and the South?
  25. Does Lillian’s fate hold a deeper meaning for the family? Does it contribute to their emotional changes in the course of the narrative?
  27. What is the role of religious belief in the novel? How do the various denominations—Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism—shape the narrative?
  29. What do you think the theme is of Chicken Dreaming Corn? Hoffman includes an author’s note at the start of the book explaining the title. Is it an effective title? Is it a metaphor that resonates, in any way, in your own life?