Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About The Book
Joseph O'Neill's Netherland
is the mesmerizing story of a European man
living in New York City after 9/11, with two troubled loves--that for his wife,
and that for his adopted country. Told in a lyrical voice, the story of his
journey involves an immersion in the cricket-playing subculture of the city, a
tragic friendship with a Trinidadian immigrant, and a darkening understanding of
the great American narrative. It is a story of heritage and home, of sports and
work, of friendship and love, and it ultimately offers universal truths about
the search for meaning in life and the hope for renewal.
- Describe the structure of Netherland. Why does the author open with
Hans moving to New York City and then quickly jump into the future with Chuck's
death and then jump back? Do you think these flashbacks and foward leaps relate
to the narrative arc of the story? Is this simply how we tell stories? When you
tell a story do you tell it chronologically? Why?
- Childhood often slips into the story--that of both Hans and Chuck. Early
on in the novel, Hans mentions that he doesn't connect to himself as a child
("I, however, seem given to self-estrangement"), then proceeds to produce
numerous memories of his childhood and of his mother. How is this reconnecting
with his heritage and his past important to the story? How is Chuck often the
catalyst for these memories?
- Chuck is more connected to his heritage than Hans. He socializes with
others from the West Indies; he's marriees to a woman from his birth country, et
cetera. How do flashbacks to his childhood differ from Hans's and how do they
affect the novel as a whole?
- How does nostalgis play into Netherland? Who is nostalgic and for
what? Why does O'Neill open the novel with someone being nostalgic for New York
- Discuss the title. What does "netherland" mean and what do you think it
- Chuck's motto is "Think fantastic." How does this both help and hinder
him? Can you create an appropriate motto for Hans? How about for yourself?
- What does the United States represent for Hans and Chuck? How are their
relationships with their new country similar, and also polar opposites?
- How are both Han's and Chuck's experiences typical of American dream of
immigrant stories? Compare Netherland to other stories of the immigrant
experience (The Joy Luck Club, The House on Mango Street, House
of Sand and Fog) or to what you imagine immigrating to a new country to be
- Is the American Dream the same after 9/11? How are Americans both united
and divided after 9/11? How is the world of Netherland particular to the
United States after 9/11?
- Describe the narrator's voice. Do you trust and like Hans as a narrator?
Do you sympatize with him and understand his motives? Do you identify with him?
- Describe the Chelsea Hotel when Hans lives. How is it a character in the
novel? How are the various inhabitants and the oddness of the place appealing
and comforting to Hans?
- What is Han's relationship with his mother? How does the relationship
continue to affect him after his mother's death? How does it affect his being a
- Discuss the theme of male friendship in the novel and its connection to
sports. Early in the novel, Hans describes playing cricket with Chuck: "The rest
of our lives--jobs, children, wives, worries--peeled away, leaving only this
fateful sporting fruit." While Hans's friendship with Chuck goes beyond cricket,
the sport is what initially brings the two men together. Why do you think
cricket is so important to Hans? How does his friendship with Chuck change him?
- Netherland is also the story of a marriage. Why is Hans and Rachel's
marriage falling apart? What brings them together again in the end?
- Discuss the theme of betrayal and forgiveness in Netherland. How
do both Rachel and Hans betray eachother and why? What about Chuck? Do the
characters ever lead themselves astray and betray themselves. Does America
betray both Chuck and Hans in the end?
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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.