Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- In what ways does the setting of a chaotic former Soviet republic, "a 'shatter zone' of anarchic cultures," add to the atmosphere of suspense in the novel? What role does the setting itself - its landscape, history, and cultures - play in the story?
- The first villagers who see the wolf-boy imagine him to be "a dream memory or a lingering shade from the spirit world." Later, Tomas tells Zack that "Dr. Medvedev thinks he's retarded and belongs in an asylum. The Mullah thinks he's Satan in human form." Tomas himself suggests that the boy is a victim of secret Russian chemical experiments, while Kathryn believes he was raised by wolves. How would you explain the wolf-boy?
In considering his reasons for coming to Central Asia, Zack wonders "in what measure his impulse to rescue was always just an excuse to wreak havoc. Much as he might argue that he was here only for Adrienne, he knew it was more than that." What are his other motives? In what ways is his past affecting his behavior?
Why does Zack identify so strongly with the wolf-boy? Why does he wish, after first meeting him, that "he had never seen that kid rise like a zombie from the deepest sump of his sub-conscious"? What does the wolf-boy remind him of?
Shelter from the Storm brings together an extremely odd cast of characters - a divorced American graduate student, a Polish Catholic priest, a self-styled Islamic prophet, an unrepentant communist veterinarian, a Czech hotel owner willing to kill for love, and assorted others. What does such a range of characters add to the novel? What does it reveal about the clash of cultures in Central Asia?
Why has Kathryn come to Central Asia? What does she hope will happen to her there? Why is she so attached to the feral child? Do you think she realizes her "yearning to break through to this place and to deeper parts of herself"? What role do her maternal instincts play in her decisions?
The writing in Shelter from the Storm is remarkably vivid. As Tomas moves toward the murdered bodies of Father Josef and Anna, we're told that "he emptied his head of thought as if jettisoning luggage from a crashing plane." And when Kathryn teaches the wolf-boy to talk, he is described as floating "in the acoustic cologne of her voice like a baby in amniotic fluid." Why are these particularly apt similes? What other passages in the novel show Mewshaw's skill with language?
What role does love play in the major events of the novel? In what ways do the relationships between Adrienne and Fletcher, Tomas and Anna, and Zack and Kathryn drive the action?
- Much of Shelter from the Storm is concerned with "the mysteries of perspective and identity," and Zack is frequently startled and disconcerted by a sudden reflection of himself in a mirror. At one point he wonders whether "things happened to him because of who he was. Or was he who he was because of all that happened?" How would you answer these questions? Does our experience create our identity, or does our identity create our experience? What does the novel seem to imply about these matters?
At the end of the novel, as Zack is being brought back from the desert, he is described as "a snake shedding its skin," like "an insect in the chrysalis stage just before it sprouts wings and flies away." How have the events of the novel brought him to the brink of transformation? How will he be changed?
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