One of the epigraphs quotes the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: "Man has in him the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth and the music of the air." What is the significance of silence in this story, both as a metaphor and as an element in the plot?
As Claire contemplates evacuation in the opening of the novel, she muses: "She'd come to the Andamans mistaking youthful ambition as a virtue, and it took her a long time to realize that ambition is worthless unless it's rooted in human understanding." What are Claire's regrets in this moment? How does this thought relate to the larger themes of colonization, war, and independence that are woven through the story?
While establishing herself on Ross Island, Claire observes, "Prejudice in British India…was actively transferable and widely embraced." How does this transfer of prejudice shape Naila's identity and affect her relationship with Leyo?
When Claire spies Naila feeding baby Ty a bottle of water, she likens Ty's response to "a gesture of devotion." Why is this moment significant? What are the dueling impulses that complicate Claire's relationship with Naila, and with Ty?
On their first field trip into the forest, Shep offers to operate on the club foot of little Jodo. Why does Jodo's mother refuse? Why does Shep's offer remain a source of friction and distrust among the Biya later in the story?
"The nerve" is a phrase that Claire recalls her father whispering once as they gazed at a Gauguin painting of Polynesia. Why did he utter this phrase with envy? Why is this memory important to Claire as the story unfolds?
We meet two indigenous Andamanese tribes – the Biya and the Jarawa -- in this book. How does Claire's view of these native islanders change as she interacts with them? How does her evolution as an anthropologist alter the fate of her son?
The spectres of Claire's dead brother and Shep's unyielding father loom over the Durants as they struggle to balance their respective passions while raising Ty. How do their childhood conflicts influence their decisions as parents?
Naila's teacher Sen instills the lesson in her: "Master the map and you master the world." How does Leyo's sense of the world ultimately alter Naila's understanding of "map mastery"?
Shep, Claire, and Naila each communicate differently with Ty. How do these differences reflect their own personalities and emotional needs?
As young parents in an era before modern insights into early childhood development, Claire and Shep are mystified and frustrated by Ty's delayed speech. How does this frustration impact their marriage? How might you respond if Ty were your child today?
Why don't Shep and Claire leave the Andamans with Ty after the earthquake and tsunami force them off Ross Island?
As a boy in Shanghai, Shep memorized many lines from Rudyard Kipling's Kim, a novel that seems to haunt him. Why does this story from his childhood have such a strong hold on him?
What makes Shep's sister Vivian a vital character in this story?
How does Major Baird surprise Shep? What does Shep learn from him?
Why do many of Port Blair's "local born" residents welcome the prospect of the Japanese occupation?
Why is Porubi both a pivotal and largely unnoticed character? In what ways does he embody the history of colonized indigenous people?
Why does Shep burn the overland map of his escape route?
Claire both needs and despises Denis Ward. Why does she ultimately conclude that he's more "human" than she acknowledged? Do you agree?
Why does the narration switch to first person in the Epilogue? What does that tell us about the perspective that shapes this novel?
The theme of atonement runs through this story. What are the "original sins" that the primary characters feel compelled to atone for?