Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh is a great book club choice. It touches on contemporary social attitudes about immigration, with a pan-global setting, characters you want to hang out with and more than a dash of the mythical. These Gun Island book club questions will help you get the conversation going.
Our Gun Island discussion guide follows our usual format. We have a synopsis (just to remind you of the book’s rough outline). We’ve provided 10 discussion questions and we’ve pulled some provocative quotes from reviews that you can use to stimulate conversation.
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Gun Island Synopsis
(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)
Gun Island, Amitav Ghosh
Bundook. Gun. A common word, but one that turns Deen Datta’s world upside down.
A dealer of rare books, Deen is used to a quiet life spent indoors, but as his once-solid beliefs begin to shift, he is forced to set out on an extraordinary journey; one that takes him from India to Los Angeles and Venice via a tangled route through the memories and experiences of those he meets along the way.
There is Piya, a fellow Bengali-American who sets his journey in motion; Tipu, an entrepreneurial young man who opens Deen’s eyes to the realities of growing up in today’s world; Rafi, with his desperate attempt to help someone in need; and Cinta, an old friend who provides the missing link in the story they are all a part of. It is a journey that will upend everything he thought he knew about himself, about the Bengali legends of his childhood, and about the world around him.
Amitav Ghosh‘s Gun Island is a beautifully realized novel that effortlessly spans space and time. It is the story of a world on the brink, of increasing displacement and unstoppable transition. But it is also a story of hope, of a man whose faith in the world and the future is restored by two remarkable women.
The Gun Island synopsis above is verbatim from the publisher. And it’s not inaccurate. But the description fails to mention one of the more interesting elements of the book. There is a strong dose of mythology threaded through the story. The myth of the Merchant of Gun Island, and Deen’s quest to find out more about it, drives a lot of the action in the story.
Gun Island Book Club Questions
These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.
- The quest in the book seems to have awakened Deen from a deep malaise. How do you think his approach to life (and his friends) changed over the course of the book?
- The modern day story and the myth about the Merchant of Gun Island have some parallels. What scenes from the modern day story had strains of the mythology for you?
- So much of the action in the book takes place on, near or in water. How is this important to the story?
- Tipu takes Deen to school regarding how low income Bangladeshis use smart phones to navigate their daily lives and plan their emigration routes. In fact, Deen had a more out of date phone than Tipu. How did that revelation change your thinking?
- Why did Tipu choose to cross borders illegally when he could have easily simply renewed his passport?
- Cinta and Deen lead very different lives, and yet they have become dear friends. What did you think of their friendship and how do you think it benefited each of them?
- Piya is a scientist in the midst of what is, at its heart, a mythological story. How does her pragmatism contribute to the narrative?
- The scene at the temple in the Sunderbans had a very Indiana Jones element to it, complete with snakes! Jones is usually the hero of his stories, but who was the hero in the cobra incident?
- As the The Lucania ship embarked upon its rescue mission, some very strange things begin to happen. These include tornadoes, hailstorms, a mass gathering of marine mammals and a swarm of birds and a wave of bioluminescence. Were these, as the warship captain proclaimed, “a miracle”? Is this magical realism?
- Looking forward in time from the end of the book, do you think that the events and news coverage surrounding the refugees could have had a material effect on public perception of illegal immigration?
Gun Island Selected Thought Provoking Reviews
(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)
“This is a story that could have missed its mark with the emphasis on climate change and environmentalism, but Ghosh sidesteps this by focusing on the micro level, making the characters come alive in the circumstances they find themselves in and the scenarios and dilemmas they face.”
“…[Ghosh] picks up on historical events and researches them carefully to run an authentic story line, and with his excellent descriptive writing sets it all beautifully. In my view this was missing from the most part of this book. Another reviewer called this ‘Dan Brownesque’ with the simple way it rolled out and answers found Deen.”
“Gun Island gives us a mixed bag of a story that ticks off many of today’s hot literary topics: magic realism, immigration, climate change, the need for an overriding hero.”
“It was interesting to know how the words from other languages morph into a different word/meaning in the local language in which the story is told.”
“I especially enjoyed the story’s geographic sweep and use of Hindu mythology, as well as the background material Ghosh braids into the story, although the didactic content and mysticism were a bit much for me at times.”
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