Reading Group Guide

I’m happy to speak with book groups – whether in person, via Skype, or by e-mail – as possible. Please feel welcome to use the contact form on the website to reach me.

Some Questions to Consider:

  1. Who or what is the “unexpected guest”? Might there be more than one?
  2. What weight does memory have in our lives? What are we entitled to shed from our pasts? Can even bad memories be useful?
  3. Who bears responsibility for Clare’s youthful choice? what changed over time to make Clare’s youthful choice seem so appalling to her? Does she make the best choice(s) at the end of the book?
  4. When Clare was growing up, many communities considered the IRA to be a terrorist group while other communities considered IRA members to be freedom fighters and openly supported them. What effect might 9/11 have had on perceptions of terrorism? On support for groups some consider to be terrorist?
  5. What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? Is Niall’s behavior understandable? Are there instances when political action—even violent—outside of accepted norms is defensible?
  6. In chapter 7, Clare reflects on the public’s opinion of diplomats. Has the importance or nature of international diplomacy changed in recent decades? If so, how and why?
  7. Clare inhabits a beautiful apartment in Paris with full-time staff. But “the splendor belonged to the crown; she and Edward were just staff (and she unpaid staff, at that),” and she has almost no privacy and little free will. Is her lifestyle entirely enviable?
  8. What effect has 9/11 had on global and expatriate life?
  9. Clare graduated from Harvard and speaks multiple languages, but she puts her career on a back burner for the sake of her husband’s. Why has she chosen to do this? Does it satisfy her? How are the compromises in their marriage particular to their situation as a foreign-service family, and how might they be common to many marriages?
  10. Could Clare have handled her day–multitasking a medley of personal, professional, and familial needs while preparing and hosting a formal dinner–differently? Is having to balance public and private lives a common experience? Has the emergence of the Internet affected this in any way?
  11. Clare and Edward keep secrets from each other, and we learn that Edward has distinct views on the matter. Is it necessary to know everything about your partner in a marriage?
  12. Jamie is very much his mother’s son: fiercely private to the point where Clare knows confronting him is likely to silence him, but innately passionate. How have his life experiences–child of a dual-national marriage, having lived in many places–also influenced the way he acts? Are Clare’s initial efforts to protect Jamie from his father and Edward from Jamie judicious? How about her eventual course of action?
  13. In chapter 7, Clare says she sometimes felt she needed her children as much as they needed her, that her children were “anchors in the floating world.” What does she mean by that?
  14. In chapter 11, Clare tells the story of the Burghers of Calais and of the artist Rodin’s decision to portray them as distinct from one another. One, Andrieu d’Andres, is depicted as particularly distressed by the act of self-sacrifice he is about to commit. Was this portrayal disrespectful? Realistic?