Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The narrative of The Book of Jonas proceeds in short chapters, jump-cuts between Jonas's present life, his past, Christopher's journal entries, his interactions with his therapist, and chapters devoted to Rose's efforts on behalf of the families of soldiers missing in action. What is the effect of this layering of different perspectives and time frames? How would the novel have been different if told in a continuous, chronological, single point-of-view narrative?
What strikes the newly transplanted Jonas most strongly about American culture and his host family in particular? How is Jonas treated at school? What does Jonas's outsider perspective reveal about aspects of American culture and family life that most of us simply take for granted?
Why does Christopher follow Jonas when he flees from the village American forces have just destroyed? He says that Jonas was "simply trying to get out. Same as me" [p. 219]. What is Christopher trying to get out of?
Christopher writes in his journal about seeing a lioness caring for a baby gazelle [p. 123126]. Why does this scene affect him so strongly? In what ways is the situation of the lioness and the gazelle analogous to Christopher and Jonas's relationship?
Before he commits an act of stunning violence, Jonas thinks: "What will happen is what must happen, what is fated to happen. What has been decided" [p. 239]. Indeed, he feels it has been set up to happen. Is he right in thinking this act is fated, that he has in fact been invited to commit it, or is he merely justifying what he's done?
In what ways are both Christopher and Jonas motivated by vengeance? Do they each come to some ability to forgive, themselves and others, by the novel's end?
The soldiers who remember Christopher describe him as wise and compassionate, a calming presence somewhat aloof from the rage of war. How does that picture differ from the way Christopher describes himself and his actions in the war? How does he come to view the war and his part in it?
Why does Jonas decide to send Christopher's journal back to Rose? How is reading it likely to affect her? The last line of the novels asserts that she "is free" [p. 256], but what is she free of?
Does Jonas's troubling behaviorhis violent attack on the bully at school, his drinking binges, blackouts, academic suspension, and eventual arrestultimately have any positive consequences?
Jonas's AA sponsor asks him if he thinks there might be a larger plan at work in his life, that he was brought here for a reason? How does Jonas react to this question, and to religious ways of seeing the world generally? Does it seem as if he's been brought here to fulfill a higher purpose or divine plan? What would that purpose or larger plan be?
What aspects of the American wars in the Middle East does The Book of Jonas illuminate? In what ways does it deepen our understanding of how these wars affect not only civilians but American soldiers as well?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Plume.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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