Reading Group Guide

  1. What does the novel’s title refer to? What happens when the cypress whispers?
  2. When we first meet Daphne, she is twelve years old and racing towards the cove on Erikousa where “the sea christened her again each summer” and she “felt safe from . . . the stares of girls whose freckled skin smelled of strawberry lotion.” What does this passage tell you about Daphne and her life as a first-generation child of immigrants?
  3. Ancient Greek myths play an important role in Daphne’s story. How do the myths of Persephone and Demeter and Arachne and Ariadne reflect Daphne’s life? How does Yia-yia use these myths as a tool to guide Daphne?
  4. Daphne is first drawn to Alex when she hears him recite the “Sweet Helen, make me immortal with
 a kiss” passage from Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. What is it about this reading that draws Daphne to Alex? How does this piece of literature foreshadow their relationship and Daphne’s life?
  5. When explaining the role of the ancient oracles, Yia-yia tells Daphne that “only women who had truly known what it is to love another could be trusted, Daphne. Only these women could understand 
how precious life really is.” Then, when Yia-yia explains their family’s connection to the Cypress Whispers, she tells Daphne, “We are blessed my dear, but also cursed.” What does Yia-yia mean by this? How do you feel that your perspective on life has changed as you’ve gotten older?
  6. At first, Yianni’s relationship with Yia-yia is a mystery to Daphne. Eventually she comes to understand their bond and that Yianni is a man consumed by guilt. What is the source of Yianni’s guilt, and how does this affect his relationship with Yia-yia and his initial reaction to Daphne? If you could go back and change something about your relationship with your parents or grandparents, what would you do differently?
  7. Daphne spends her life chasing the “American Dream,” yet when she finally achieves financial success she must reevaluate what is really important in life. How is the box under Yia-yia’s bed symbolic of this conflict? What does the “American Dream” mean to you?
  8. The story of Dora and Yia-yia is based on the author’s own family history. Yvette’s grandmother was one of a group of islanders who risked their own lives to hide and save a family of Jews from the Nazis. What story from your family’s past might inspire a novel?
  9. Like many working mothers, Daphne struggles to find balance between building her business and nurturing Evie. What does Yia-yia teach Daphne about raising children? Do you agree with Yia-yia that “little girls need their imaginations and their mothers. Nothing else?”
  10. Is it possible to balance a career and children? What is the key to making that balance work?
  11. Daphne realizes that while
 Stephen is a good man, they
 are very different; they are both products of their upbringing. When Stephen tells Daphne to forget the past and focus on their future together she responds, “I am my past.” Do you agree with her? 
Is it possible for two people from different worlds to have a successful relationship?
  12. When Yia-yia reads Daphne’s coffee cup she tells her, “Someone will come into your life and show you love like you’ve never known before. He will walk beside you for the rest of your life.” Whom does Yia-yia see in Daphne’s coffee grounds? There are different kinds of love: love for a partner and love for a child. How would you describe the transformative nature of each?
  13. Evangelia and Dora, Yia-yia and Daphne, Daphne and Popi; the story is filled with rich female characters and the deep relationships between them. When Evangelia describes
her relationship with Dora she says, “When I saved Dora, she in turn saved me as well.” Was there a moment in your life where you felt “saved” by another person? Who are the people in your life that you know you can always depend on?
  14. At the end of the book, we learn the ancient myth of Daphne, the forest nymph. In what way does Daphne’s own life mirror the myth of Daphne?
  15. Yia-yia tells Daphne that when she
 is lost or in need of guidance, all
 she needs to do is close her eyes and listen for the voices of their ancestors whispering to her between the rustling leaves of the cypress tree. Whose voice do you hear 
when the cypress whispers?