1. Why might the author have chosen to use these quotations by
Eudora Welty and Robert Graves as epigraphs? What relationship do
they have to the major themes of the novel?
2. Consider the first sentence of the novel: "Now it was night."
What impact does this line have? Is it an effective first line?
What symbolic relevance might it have? How does it foreshadow
Jacqueline's state of mind and being? How does Maksik use darkness
and light throughout the book, and what purposes might this
particular imagery serve?
3. Jacqueline's point of view clearly dominates the story.
Readers never really know what other characters think of her, only
how Jacqueline believes she is being perceived. How does this
influence our reception of the story and shape our understanding of
Jacqueline? How does point of view allow Maksik to develop a sense
of sympathy or empathy among readers? Is he successful in doing
4. How does the author evoke or document sensory experience in
the novel? How does he capture sensation? Why is this detail of the
work so important? What does it reveal about Jacqueline and her
5. Much of the novel is devoted to descriptions of Jacqueline's
hunger and her experience of looking for or eating food. Consider
the various ways that the author treats the subject of hunger. How
do the tourists eating as "an entertainment" (4) contribute to this
dialogue and influence our understanding of Jacqueline's own
experience? How is hunger used metaphorically within the novel?
6. Jacqueline often reminds herself of the proper way to handle
situations. Why is she concerned with pride and a sense of grace
and propriety though she suffers so? Why does she refuse charity
and, more broadly, refuse to ask for help? Why does she lie to the
people she meets instead of sharing her story? What message does
the book present, then, about human dignity? And about guilt? What
role does charity play in the book, and how do acts of charity
contribute to Jacqueline's survival?
7. Until the conclusion of the story, the book contains minimal
dialogue. Most exchanges take place via Jacqueline's hallucinations
or imaginings of conversations with her mother. Why do you think
the author chose to limit dialogue in this way? What does it tell
us about Jacqueline? Why is it important that this changes by the
end of the story?
8. Analyze and evaluate the plot or narrative structure of the
story. What would you identify as the major actions of the story?
How does the spare plot enhance the feeling of Jacqueline's
psychological turmoil? How do each of Jacqueline's actions allow
her to cope with her psychological condition?
9. Jacqueline often hears her mother referring to will of God,
but what role does faith ultimately play in the novel? Does
Jacqueline share her mother's point of view? Does this change
throughout the story? What does Jacqueline's conversation with her
sister, Saifa, reveal about her views of faith? What does
Jacqueline ultimately decide to pray for? Are her prayers
10. Evaluate the form of the novel. How does the structure of
the book complement and support or contrast with the major themes
of the novel, and what does it reveal about Jacqueline's state of
mind? What is the effect of the short sections, and of Maksik's
clean, spare prose? Does the form ultimately complement the
11. What message does the book offer about memory? What does
Jacqueline mean when she considers the link between memory and
madness? Are Jacqueline's memories reliable? Does her process of
remembering help her or hurt her?
12. Jacqueline's memories of Bernard are both fond and furious.
Why? Do you believe she is justified in feeling as she does? Why or
13. How does the author create a sense of time passing? How do
imagery and structure help to facilitate this? What other literary
devices does the author use to create a sense of the passage of
time or a sense of past and present?
14. Jacqueline escapes the violence of Liberia and exiles
herself on a beautiful Greek island. She also spends times amid
ruins, which contain an active volcano. "What was once an island is
now the ruins of an island" (99), Maksik writes. Evaluate the
setting. Discuss the purpose and effect of the author's choice of
15. Jacqueline seeks shelter in a cave and among unfinished
structures. How does she treat these sites or act within them? What
rituals does she engage in there? Why are such rituals important?
What might they indicate about the human experience?
16. What message or messages does the book contain about
survival and human will? How does Jacqueline manage to survive?
What attributes allow her to keep going and to make progress? What
obstacles does she face and how does she overcome them?
17. Jacqueline often pauses to recognize that she has made a
decision. What role does choice play in the novel? What does
Jacqueline mean when she thinks of returning to "the endlessness of
choice" (102)? Conversely, what role do fate and serendipity seem
to play in the novel? Does the novel seem to indicate that we have
control of our lives, or not?
18. Why does Jacqueline's father support Charles Taylor? What
effect does this have on their family's lifestyle? What impact does
it ultimately have for the family? Why does Jacqueline return to
Liberia after school despite her promise to her mother that she
will stay away? What does this indicate about the intersection of
the political and the personal? What message does it offer about
our ethical choices?
19. At the conclusion of the novel, though Jacqueline finally
reveals her story, she wonders if "telling it [is] an act of
violence" (208). What does she mean by this? She also admits that
she has "forgotten the reason for stories" (208). What seems to be
Jacqueline's reason for telling her story to Katarina? What does
Katarina want to share with Jacqueline? What might each woman hope
to gain from telling her story? What might the final scenes
indicate, then, about the link between catharsis and storytelling
or the comfort of common experience?