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Reading guide for The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko

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The Invention of Exile

A Novel

by Vanessa Manko

The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko X
The Invention of Exile by Vanessa Manko
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 304 pages
    Jul 2015, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Alta Ifland
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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. What are your definitions of home and family? What are Austin's? How do your definitions align or differ?

  2. What was your reaction to the interrogation scenes in Connecticut (pp. 20–37)? Do you think there was anything Austin could have done to sway the inquisitor's mind?

  3. How is the lighthouse symbolic in Austin's and Julia's lives? What about Julia's flooded garden

  4. Austin is very hopeful, to the point of obsession, that his inventions will aid him in reuniting with his family. How does the theme of invention work in his life and in the novel

  5. What is Anarose's role

  6. The storyline and perspective shift and jump over time and place. How does this structure inform the story

  7. Austin muses, "Paper is stronger than one thinks. Papers, documents don't define a man, but they lived in a mire of them. . . . His days revolved around papers. But no amount of paper means a country" (p. 116). What do you think about this passage? How do papers control how Austin conducts his life?

  8. How does Austin's story fit into the trope of the United States as a "melting pot" for immigrants? How did it influence your thoughts on the immigrant experience?

  9. Austin is paranoid that an FBI agent, Jack, has him under surveillance. Do you think the agent is real, or is he a figment born of fear and distrust? What purpose does Jack serve

  10. Correspondence is a vital undercurrent in Austin's life. How do the many letters and notes we read bring him closer to—and push him further apart from—his loved ones? How do you correspond with people close to you?

  11. How does Austin's conception and understanding of being American and returning to the United States change throughout the novel? What was your reaction to his thoughts in the final pages?

  12. What does the title, The Invention of Exile, mean to you? In what ways was Austin in exile?

Recommended Reading
The Odyssey by Homer
As the original quest story about the longing for home, Odysseus' journey to return to Ithaca and to his beloved Penelope helped me to imagine Austin's particular "odyssey" and his abiding love for Julia.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
This classic novel about the doomed love affair between Zhivago and Lara and its depiction of how lives are torn apart during the Russian Revolution and civil war served as inspiration as I wrote about Austin and Julia's hardships while in Russia at this time.

Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky is a master of portraying the complex, fraught psychology of the Russian soul and these novels were influential while I was developing Austin's mindset and character.

Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova
Akhmatova, a member of the Russian intelligentsia, did not flee Russia with other artist émigrés but stayed on, living in St. Petersburg and writing poetry throughout the Russian civil war and Stalinism. Fiercely attached to Russia, she did not turn her back on her country, and her poems celebrate the history and culture of pre-Revolutionary Russia while at the same time lamenting what the country had become and what she had lost. Though she wrote them in Russia, her poems are sad and filled with a deep sense of alienation, evoking the state of exile.

The Trial by Franz Kafka
Kafka's portrayal of absurd, deadening bureaucracy helped me to understand Austin's own struggles with government and his repeated, frustrated attempts to reenter the United States.

Where the Air Is Clear by Carlos Fuentes
This novel is composed of a series of vignettes about characters from different social and cultural classes within Mexico City, and with Ixca Cienfuegos as a kind of narrator-guide, it is also a portrait of the city itself and helped me to gain a fuller understanding of what the city must have been like in the 1940s and '50s.

There is a long tradition of English and American writers who have written about Mexico and I wanted to understand how those before me did it. The following three novels were major influences:
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books. 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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