Reading guide for The Darling by Russell Banks

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The Darling

by Russell Banks

The Darling
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 384 pages
    Oct 2005, 416 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


Russell Banks has exhibited an astonishingly imaginative range throughout his distinguished career as a novelist, and his uniquely realistic American voice, on display in such modern classics as Rule of the Bone and Continental Drift, continues to shine in this latest effort. Fans and newcomers alike will be rewarded by his incisive eye for character and his ability to deliver a relentless and engaging narrative -- always in the service of his inimitable style.

The Darling is Hannah Musgrave's story, told emotionally and convincingly years later by Hannah herself. A political radical and member of the Weather Underground, Hannah has fled America to West Africa, where she and her Liberian husband become friends and colleagues of Charles Taylor, the notorious warlord and now ex-president of Liberia. When Taylor leaves for the United States in an effort to escape embezzlement charges, he's immediately placed in prison. Hannah's encounter with Taylor in America ultimately triggers a series of events whose momentum catches Hannah's family in its grip and forces her to make a heartrending choice.

Set in Liberia and the United States from 1975 through 1991, The Darling is a political-historical thriller -- reminiscent of Greene and Conrad -- that explodes the genre, raising serious philosophical questions about terrorism, political violence, and the clash of races and cultures.

Discussion Questions
  1. What is the significance of the title, The Darling?

  2. Hannah Musgrave spends much of her life in the US and Liberia under an alias, Dawn Carrington. She recalls that for a time as a child, she insisted on being known as "Scout," and she feels that Woodrow has two separate lives: one in Freetown, and one in Fuama. How does identity play out in The Darling? What did the novel make you think about personality – could you only have lived the life you have, or do we each contain multitudes?

  3. "If humans, like the rest of the animals, could not speak, we would all live together in peace, devouring one another solely out of necessity and instinct, our positions in the food chain nicely balanced by need and numbers. If we were as speechless as my collies on the farm or the hens and sheep and the geese, if we barked or baa'd or clucked or if like the chimps we could only hoot and holler and otherwise had to depend on body language, we would not kill one another or any other animal solely for the pleasure on it. The power of speech is the speech of power. Vows of silence are pledges to peaceableness. Silence is indeed golden, and a golden age would be silent." Do you agree?

  4. Charles Taylor and Samuel Doe are real people as well as characters in The Darling – and at one point John Kerry gets a mention, having gone on a rafting trip with Hannah's parents. How does Russell Banks meld the historic and the fictional in this novel? Did you find its combination of the factual and imaginary persuasive or unsettling, or both?

  5. How are Hannah's "dreamers" important to her and to the novel as a whole?

Copyright Harper Collins.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. 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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