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 so?
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 experiences?
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 answered?
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 content?
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 why not?
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 setting.
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?