The Longest Ride

Grand Central Publishing  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.

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?



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