Reading Guide Questions
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1. The opening line of Something to Tell You
is: "Secrets are my currency: I deal in them for a living." What is the role of secrecy in this novel? What are we to make of Jamal's profession as a psychiatrist and his own late quest for self-knowledge?
2. How would you characterize Jamal? What challenge lays ahead for Jamal at the start of the novel? What conclusions does Jamal draw about the trajectory of his life? Do these conclusions represent a shift for Jamal? Why or why not?
3. Jamal's relationship with his sister, Miriam, is pivotal throughout the novel. How would you describe their relationship? How accurately does each sibling assess the other's strengths and weaknesses? What does Jamal and Miriam's relationship reveal about their familial dynamics and its impact on both?
4. What does Kureishi mean when he employs the Ibsen quote: "We sail with a corpse in the cargo?" What corpses do Jamal and the other characters carry with them? Does Kureishi offer any means by which they can be freed of their respective corpses? If yes, how? If no, why not?
5. Parental loss abounds in the novel. Identify the types of parental loss the primary characters experience and how each reconciles or fails to reconcile the loss? What do Kureishi's representations of parents and parenting suggest about the nature of this complicated endeavor? Do you agree with his claims? Why or why not?
6. How does the novel aptly support the quote: "Sexual passion is the most perfect manifestation of the will to live"? How are the perversions, subversions, diversions, or inversions of sexual passion expressed by the characters? What do these characters gain from their sexual explorations?
7. What significance does Jamal attach to the memory of Ajita? How does Jamal's behavior with Ajita in the present contradict or support this significance? What do you believe underlies Jamal's actions towards Ajita in the present?
8. Most of the characters in this novel seem to be unpleasantly surprised that they are no longer young and are reluctant to "act their age" or give up the enticements of youth. Do you think this is true generally of the generation that came of age in the 60's?
9. Sometimes the behavior of Kureishi's characters is over the top, or a bit crazy. And yet these characters are deeply loyal to one another and there is a tenderness on the part of the author, a deep sympathy for their foibles and flaws. What do you make of Kureishi's attitude toward Jamal, Henry, and Miriam?
10. Jamal in his youth committed an act with due consequences which he never divulged to Ajita. Do you think he should be "let off?" Do you think Ajita's father deserved what he got? Do you believe Jamal has suffered enough for what he did?
11. Describe the social and political world that Jamal and his friends inhabit. How does it compare to the world Jamal's father believed he would beneficially inherit in Britain compared to Pakistan? To what degree is Jamal's current lifestyle a fulfillment or refutation of his father's hopes?
12. Kureishi's characters are a diverse bunch, from established professionals to petty criminals, from artists and filmmakers to sex workers. What kind of portrait of London itself emerges from their stories?
13. What is the most compelling takeaway from the novel for you? What do you believe were the strengths of the novel? What were its failings? Expansion of Your Book Club
1. A side view of Kureishis' 80s: Kureishi wrote Omar Ali's (whom Jamal meets in Chapter 19) story in the film My Beautiful Launderette
. Gather with your fellow book club members to watch this film and discuss the following:
- Why do you believe Kureishi includes Omar in Something to Tell You?
- What parallels do you see between Omar and the youthful Jamal? How does each respond to their respective immigrant families' demands and expectations? Who do you believe is most successful? Why?
- Based on the description of Omar's character in Something to Tell You, what changes do you perceive in the older Omar? To what do you attribute these changes? What remains the same about Omar when compared to his portrait in My Beautiful Launderette?
- Based on the comparison of these two works by Kureishi, what themes preoccupy this author? What conclusions does he make about these themes? Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?
2. Explore the book that changed Jamal's life: Read or thoroughly skim Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents
- What is Freud's main thesis? Identify the arguments he employs to support his central thesis. Which of these do you find most compelling? Least compelling?
- Why do you believe this book has such a profound impact on Jamal?
- What does Jamal mean when he says the book was "more relevant to the society in which I was presently situated than to Britain"?
- How does Kureishi's book acknowledge Freud's arguments about the primacy of the sex drive?