One Amazing Thing Questions for Discussion (in class or on Moodle)
Travel (all characters)
Why do people travel? What do you consider “traveling”? Can everyone afford to travel? What are some of the reasons you know that either you or someone you know travels?
Uma wonders why people around her at the embassy might be traveling to India. Do you wonder that when you travel (whether by plane or not)? What does this say about judgments we make about people? Is this wrong? Right? Explain.
Judgments/Assumptions about People (Uma, Tariq)
What assumptions about people around her does Uma make? Why might this be a good or bad thing to do? Can people help making assumptions? What do Uma’s assumptions tell us about her character?
Tariq doesn’t like Cameron at first. Why? Why is this important to consider?
Early in the book, Malathi tries not to make any noise: “if the black man heard her, he might decide to turn around and walk toward her. Who knew what he would do then?” (14). Why does Malathi think of Cameron as “the black man” instead of using his name? What is the significance of this fact?
Malathi disliked Uma from the moment she first saw her. Why? Why is this important to consider?
Relationships/Infidelity (Malathi and Mangalam)
Mangalam keeps a photo of his wife on his desk because his employers have told him that “It would make the Americans who came to the office feel more comfortable [ . . . ] since Americans believed that the presence of a smiling family on a man’s table was proof of his moral stability” (16). Is this true? Where have you seen this idea in your daily lives?
Malathi feels that the earthquake might be her fault. Why?
What does a romantic relationship/marriage mean to you? Why do people have relationships at all?
Memory and Story-telling (all characters)
Why do people tell stories? How and why is story-telling important?
How accurate is memory? How does wishful thinking affect memories? What do the stories in the book tell us about each character and what’s important to him/her? Choose one character’s story. What does this story tell us about what matters to this character?
Do you think Uma’s idea to pass the time by story-telling is a good one? What are some alternatives they could have come up with?
Why do characters pick certain stories to tell and not others? What does this say about them/their memories/their life? For example, think about how Mr. and Mrs. Pritchett’s stories differ (that is, the stories they choose to tell).
When Lily tells Jiang, “Gramma, you can’t even speak English” (70), What does she mean? After all, Jiang does tell her story in English. Why would Jiang let people believe that she couldn’t speak English living in an English-speaking country?
How does language identify people? Why might we think of language as something personal and sacred?
If you’re multi-lingual, which language do you feel most comfortable speaking? Why?
Do you think that language is just for communication? Or is it about other things too—ideologies, identity, pride, politics, etc.?
Malathi says, “I will give you my story. But my English is not so good… So Mr. Mangalam must translate it from Tamil” (108). But then she warns Mangalam, “Better not change even one word. I know enough to catch you if you do” (108). Why would she tell her story in Tamil if she knew “enough” English? Think about where she works and the fact that she speaks English every day. How is this significant?
Love and Marriage
Why did Jiang get married? What are the reasons people get married? Is it supposed to be for love? And is it necessary to get married if you love someone? Why?
Why is Tariq so drawn to Farah? How are they different? Perhaps similar?
Does any character in this book marry for love? What does this say about marriage? For example, think about Jiang, Mr. and Mrs. Pritchett, Mangalam, and Uma’s parents.
How are Muslims treated in America today? Do you think it’s different after 9/11 from before 9/11?
After his father’s stroke, Tariq seeks advice from his lawyer. But the lawyer “advised us to let things be… Who would we go to, asking for reparation? It was a bad time for Muslims in America” (137). What does Tariq mean by this? Explain.
Consider the following quote: “They felt I wouldn’t fit in India after having been raised here… Apart from lifestyle differences, there was another issue: This was my country. I was an American” (139). What does Taeriq mean? What does it mean to be an American? Explain.
Lily ask Tariq whether Ali’s friends were “terrorists” (143). Would she have questioned him about this if Tariq weren’t Muslim? Why or why not?
Is economic mobility a myth or can it be attained/achieved? Think about the idea of the American dream. Is this attainable for everyone? Is the American dream just an idea for Americans or is it more globalized?
Mangalam says that he grew up getting more than his sisters did and felt like he deserved this because he was “the sharpest child [ . . ] and possibly the most handsome” student at his school (161). What do you think about this quote? Does Mangalam ultimately become successful? Think about what success means for you.
Think about how Mangalam takes opportunities to further his own life/career. Is this selfish? Explain.
Consider this quote: “She’s ready to take a little risk, to follow the yellow brick road into romance and a house on a hill with all-white carpeting” (182). What does this mean? Is the young Vivienne (Mrs. Prichett) making the right decision? Explain.
Consider the following quote: “Cameron was furious—and terrified. The ghetto seemed to be closing in on him. He told her that he refused to be manipulated. He was going to college… He recommended an abortion” (193). Is Cameron right in suggesting the abortion? What things do people ignore/let go in order to further their own lives/careers? Explain.
Why did Uma pick the college she did? Why did you pick CSUN?
Why does Uma leave college? Why does she return? What does this say about her character?