Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- How does Ruchira's and Biren's imminent marriage reflect a combination of traditional Hindu and modern American practices? Where does Arlene fit into this unique mixture and what does she represent?
- Is Ruchira's decision to go forward with her marriage after having met Arlene understandable? Why does she choose to do so? How does this choice affect her?
- If Ruchira could get back her "book of errors" [p. 211], what might she write in it now?
- How does each story reflect the paradox conveyed by the title phrase "unknown errors"? How much control do the characters in the stories have over the directions their lives take, and how much is predetermined by fate?
- "Families were not for fun. They were for feeding and clothing and teaching children, so that they would, in turn, be adequately equipped to feed and clothe and teach their children" [p. 259]. Does this statement accurately reflect the portrait of Indian family life that emerges in this collection, and how does it translate into the portrait of family life experienced by American immigrants? Which elements of family life in India are preserved and which are lost? How do family ties and the nature of family loyalty change in the process of immigration?
- In "The Names of Stars in Bengali," the mother laments over "what America had leached away from her" [p. 255]. Does this describe the process of assimilation? Is it necessary for an individual to lose something of his or her original culture in order to adapt to a new culture and, once immersed, are the old ways lost for good? How do the first-generation immigrant characters contrast with those born in America, such as Ajit, who had "a certain trustfulness about him that makes it clear he has never lived anywhere except America" [p. 189]? Can the characters reconcile the tension between their burden of legacy and their desperate need to preserve roots?
- How does the concept of "home" vary for the different characters? For example, what does "home" mean for Didi in "The Intelligence of Wild Things" or Khuku in "The Names of Stars in Bengali"? Is "home" a physical place, an intangible feeling, or possibly a combination of both?
- How do the different moods of each of the stories change with the various geographical settings of the stories: from Calcutta and Bombay, to the villages of India, to California, to Vermont? How do the characters' emotions reflect the shifting landscapes of their lives?
- A recurring theme in each of the stories is fantasy versus reality. How do the characters' fantasies illustrate what each person wants to remember about her life and what she wants to forget? What are their different motives for hiding certain truths from themselves or others? How do the main characters choose to respond to their own fantasies, and what does this choice say about their characters? Compare, for example, Leela's fantasies [p. 75] with Aparna's [pp. 135-6].
- Many of the characters also have difficulty communicating with the people closest to them. Why is bridging this communication gap so challenging for Mrs. Dutta and her son ("Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter"), Didi and her brother ("The Intelligence of Wild Things"), Leela and her parents ("The Lives of Strangers"), Monisha and Dilip ("The Love of a Good Man"), and the mother visiting her village ("The Names of Stars in Bengali")? How is the breakdown of communication caused or affected by the immigrant experience? By geographical distance? By generation gaps? What finally opens the gates of communication for these characters?
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.