The Longest Ride

Nicholas Sparks
By – November 1, 2013

This his­tor­i­cal nov­el is a first for Nicholas Sparks in that it fea­tures Jew­ish protago­nists. The sto­ry, which takes place in North Car­oli­na, opens with the elder­ly Ira Levin­son trapped in his car after he acci­den­tal­ly veered off the high­way in the snow. He pro­claims him­self a South­ern­er and a Jew as he begins to recount the tale of his fifty-five-year mar­riage to Ruth by way of an imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion with her. Ruth was an immi­grant to the U.S. from Vien­na just before World War II. Her death nine years ago has left Ira bereft.

Mean­while we read about the meet­ing of Sophia Danko, a stu­dent at Wake Uni­ver­si­ty who hails from New Jer­sey, and Luke Collins, a cow­boy who lives and works on his mother’s ranch and rides bulls pro­fes­sion­al­ly in compe­titions across the coun­try. Sophia has recent­ly bro­ken up with Bri­an, who is harass­ing her when Luke comes to her res­cue. Sophia and Luke’s courtship par­al­lels that of Ruth and Ira, each with its ups and downs. Even­tu­al­ly the two cou­ples’ love sto­ries become intercon­nected in a beau­ti­ful way.

This was an easy, enjoy­able read with rich detail about rur­al and stu­dent life in North Car­oli­na, a unique moth­er-son rela­tion­ship, an expe­ri­ence in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, per­son­al trau­ma inflict­ed by the war, art col­lect­ing, the hard­ships and upkeep of a ranch, bull rid­ing, and much more. Though this is a typ­i­cal Nicholas Sparks sto­ry, it is a unique tale with much to keep the read­er engrossed until the very end.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

Discussion Questions

1. Sofia and Luke come from very dif­fer­ent worlds. What do you think drew them to each oth­er? Do you think oppo­sites attract?

2. When Ira has his acci­dent, he is vis­it­ed by his dead wife, Ruth. Have you ever felt the pres­ence of a depart­ed loved one?

3. After the rodeo, Bri­an is con­fronta­tion­al with Sofia and Luke comes to her res­cue. How would you have react­ed in a sim­i­lar situation?

4. At first, Ira is very shy around Ruth. How does she draw him out of his shell? What are the big dif­fer­ences between romances in the 1940’s ver­sus the present?

5. Ira decides to enlist in the air force dur­ing World War II, and returns unable to have chil­dren. Because of this, Ira decides to break off his engage­ment with Ruth. How does this affect Ruth and Ira’s rela­tion­ship? Would you have made the same decision?

6. In the begin­ning, Mar­cia believes that Luke is just a rebound rela­tion­ship for Sofia. Do you think they were mov­ing too fast? 

7. The rela­tion­ship between Luke and his moth­er Lin­da is very close. How does she react to him putting him­self in dan­ger and why? How would you react if some­one close to you was tak­ing these kinds of big risks? 

8. Ruth and Ira thought they’d found a sur­ro­gate son in Daniel. How would you describe Ruth and Daniel’s rela­tion­ship? Can you under­stand why Daniel nev­er recon­nect­ed with Ruth and Ira? 

9. Ira tells the reporter that he and Ruth chose their art based on her reac­tions. Why does the art col­lec­tion hold so much sig­nif­i­cance for Ira after Ruth dies? Are there any objects that hold spe­cial mem­o­ries for you?

10. Luke claims he needs to keep com­pet­ing to save the ranch but Sofia thinks “[he’s] doing it so that he won’t feel guilty! You think you’re being noble but you’re real­ly being self­ish” (pg. 299). Can you under­stand both positions?

11. Why do you think Luke need­ed to go up against Big Ugly Crit­ter one more time before he quit? Have you ever done some­thing dan­ger­ous or ill-advised to prove some­thing to yourself?

12. What dri­ves Luke and Sofia to vis­it Ira in the hos­pi­tal? Do you see sim­i­lar­i­ties between Ira and Ruth’s love sto­ry and Luke and Sofia’s?

13. Sofia decides to for­give Mar­cia for dat­ing Bri­an behind her back. She made a mis­take. She didn’t mean to hurt me…. And she came through when I need­ed her. So yes, just like that. I’m over it” (pg. 365). Could you have for­giv­en Mar­cia so eas­i­ly? What does this say about Sofia as a char­ac­ter? Do you think friend­ships can sur­vive betray­als of this kind?

14. Ira makes the auc­tion of his art col­lec­tion his final love let­ter to Ruth. What does his deci­sion say about the impor­tance of sen­ti­men­tal val­ue and mon­e­tary val­ue? Did this book make you think dif­fer­ent­ly about your own life and the things you value?