By Lily King
Genre: Literary Fiction
Buy Now This book is on reading list for January 2016

Discussion Questions

1. Over the course of the novel we learn a great deal about Bankson’s childhood and young adulthood. Talk about the reasons and life events that brought him to anthropology. What has led him to the brink of suicide? How seriously do you think he views his statement: “The meaning of life is the quest to understand the structure and order of the natural world — that was the mantra I was raised on. To deviate from it was suicide” (p. 32).

2. The theme of possession, of ownership, runs throughout the novel, twisting like the river Sepik itself through the relationships and conversations of the protagonists. Talk about Nell’s search for “a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be” (p. 88). Has she found this kind of freedom in any of the tribes she has studied?

3. While Nell declares later that “He is wine and bread and deep in my stomach” (p. 247), do you believe that Bankson was able to give Nell the freedom she was looking for? How or how not? Could it have led inevitably to her death?

4. Discuss the glimpses the novel gives into the world of 1930s colonialism — in the conversations with Westerners in New Guinea and in Australia; and in Bankson’s, Nell’s and Fen’s attitudes to the tribes they study and the Western society to which they must eventually return. How, if at all, do Nell, Fen and Bankson take colonial approaches toward their research practices and anthropological subjects? What is the role of Xambun as he rejoins his tribal village after being recruited by a Western company? Is it possible to live between the two worlds?

5. Fen briefly mentions a dark family secret, then continues the conversation to discuss the primitive world versus the “civilized world”: “Nothing in the primitive world shocks me, Bankson. Or I should say, what shocks me in the primitive world is any sense of order and ethics. All the rest — the cannibalism, infanticide, raids, mutilation — it’s all comprehensible, nearly reasonable, to me. I’ve always been able to see the savageness beneath the veneer of society” (p.137–38). What does this say about Fen? How far do you agree with his comment, especially in the light of events that follow in the novel?

6. How does Nell writing books about the people she studies differ from Fen selling the flute to a museum? Was Nell’s work in the field beneficial to the Tam or to the children of Kirakira? Are her reasons for working with them ultimately as selfish as Fen’s need to profit from the flute? How morally responsible are Bankson and Nell for Xambun’s death?

7. Fen justifies taking the flute so that he can restore balance to his relationship with Nell: “There has to be a balance. A man can’t be without power — it doesn’t work like that” (p. 238). Contrast this with Nell’s thoughts on balance: “[P]erhaps a culture that flourishes is a culture that has found a similar balance among its people” (p. 144). Do you think they are talking about the same thing? Does balance always need to rest on power?

(Questions from Reading Guide in Euphoria)



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