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How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu.jpgAll Iowa Reads Program Resources

The 2023 All Iowa Reads selection for adults is How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu.

About the Book

In 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika Crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.

Once unleashed, the Arctic plague will reshape life on Earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenage granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet. 

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resilience of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.

Book Discussion Questions

  1. In the first story, "30,000 Years Beneath a Eulogy," we learn about the recently deceased Clara, an ambitious scientist and the long dead Annie, a Neanderthal child that Clara unearthed before she died. How does the story hint at the significance of these two characters? How does the fact that both deaths occur before the story begins affect the emotional content of the story?

  2. This book has been described as a novel told through short stories. What are the main themes, besides the plague that ties them together?

  3. What was your reaction to the euthanasia park in “City of Laughter”? Can you think of any real-life practices that are similar? Is the idea behind giving a person a good death morbid or highly ethical?

  4. Which story gives the book its name? What does the title mean to you?

  5. Three stories: "City of Laughter”, “Pig Son” and ``Songs of your Decay” describe scenarios where the protagonist gives up  professional detachment for human connection with a subject of their work. What is the author trying to say with these situations?

  6. In “The Scope of Possibility” an Earth creating alien is introduced. Despite her powers and immortality, she makes a grave mistake and the eventual plague is set in motion. What leads her to make such a mistake. What is the author trying to say about creation/destruction in this story?

  7. What was your favorite chapter/story in the book? Least favorite?

  8. There are several different burial options discussed throughout the book, including donating a body for research science, being cremated and stored in a high rise building with thousands of other urns, being turned into an ice sculpture and set out to sea, being kept artificially preserved long enough for loved ones to say their last goodbyes, being set adrift in space, etc. Have you given any thought to your own funeral and burial? Which method from the book would you choose for yourself and why?

Sequoia Nagamatsu.jpgAbout Author Sequoia Nagamatsu

Sequoia Nagamatsu's bestselling novel, How High We Go in the Dark is a New York Times Editors' Choice. His work has appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Iowa Review, and Lightspeed Magazine. He was educated at Grinnell College (BA) and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (MFA), and he teaches creative writing at Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, the writer Cole Nagamatsu, their cat Kalahira, their real dog Fenris, and a robot dog named Calvino. You can find more about the author at

Reviews and Interviews

Reviews and interviews with Sequoia Nagamatsu and other information about How High We Go in the Dark:

  • The Guardian: "How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu review - a new plague", 20 January, 2022 by Nina Allan.
  • Kirkus Reviews: "How High We Go in the Dark", Oct. 15, 2021 (Posted online: Sept. 29, 2021).
  • NPR: "Strap in for highs and lows with the pandemic novel 'How High We Go in the Dark'", January 28, 2022 by Natalie Zutter.
  • "Wondrous, and not just in the feats of imagination, which are so numerous it makes me dizzy to recall them, but also in the humanity and tenderness with which Sequoia Nagamatsu helps us navigate this landscape. . . . This is a truly amazing book, one to keep close as we imagine the uncertain future."  — Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of Nothing to See Here.

Find Copies of How High We Go in the Dark to Borrow

Find out which Iowa libraries have copies of How High We Go in the Dark to borrow, or find out how to request sets for discussion groups.

Find in Iowa Libraries:

Find on Bridges: Iowa's eLibrary:

Multiple Copies for Discussion Groups:​​​​​