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Reading Group Discussion Questions


1. The novel’s opening and closing scenes mirror one another. Kathleen begins the story on hands and knees working in the family’s garden, and ends the story on hands and knees

washing the floor at Jack’s home. Each scene represents a moment before a major change comes to her life. How is the theme of change developed throughout the book?


2. Critical events that shaped Jack’s life were the suicide of his father and his abandonment by his mother. How have these events shaped him? Do they foreshadow other events in 

the novel?


3. Jack’s grandfather is deeply prejudiced. Do you think he is a sympathetic or unsympathetic character?


4. Do you think that we will ever get past making assumptions about one another based on nationality or race or sex or age? Do you think such prejudices are inherent or taught?


5. Do you think you would be able to make Jack’s decision – to disregard the purpose of your voyage (thereby causing great financial loss to yourself and the ship’s investors) and bring to

your country a shipload of starving immigrants who might otherwise die?


6. Kathleen is defined by her loyalty and determination. What is Jack defined by?


7. Kathleen begins the novel wanting only to marry and continue with her life as it is. What scene demonstrates her irreversible change to a young woman of determination? 


8. How does Jack and Kathleen’s relationship change once she sneaks back onto the ship after he leaves her on the island of Fayal?


9. After a lifetime of forced poverty, restricted rights, and being treated as less than a person by the English, Danny becomes someone who feels entitled to take whatever he can get,

consequences be damned. Is this change believable? How do you think you would respond if you lived in similar circumstances?


10. What is the difference between the love Kathleen once had for Danny and her love for Jack?


11. How much of a person’s character do you think is shaped by the times in which he or she lives?


12. Who was your favorite character? Why?

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