Book Club Questions
1. The subtitle of the book is "a story of love transcendent." Transcendent is defined as “extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience” and “being beyond comprehension.” What does it mean for love, an already extraordinary emotion, to be transcendent? In what ways is Noah's love for both his mothers transcendent?
2. Noah's birth mother, Hee Ae, is a very complex character. Do you as a reader find her sympathetic?
3. The narrator conveys that Hee Ae dearly loves Noah, despite being abusive and neglectful at times. How does this nuanced portrait play out in Noah’s emotions when he is reunited with his mother? How do you as the reader feel about the reunion?
4. The narrator says that “Young Nam died” on the plane ride from Korea to America, on his way to his new life. In what ways is that true? In what ways is that not true?
5. Noah never learns who his birth father is, and yet the father’s story looms surprisingly large in the book. As a reader, what is your verdict on the actions and choices of the birth father, and their effect on the trajectory of Noah’s life?
6. Noah’s adoptive family is of Scandinavian descent, and the narrator goes into great detail about the religious and cultural history of the Swedish Lutherans. How did his adoptive family’s culture impact Noah’s beliefs and attitudes? Are there beliefs and attitudes he retains from his life in Korea?
7. In many ways, Noah’s life story reads like a modern version of a Dickens novel.
(a) Dickens’ novels were commentaries on his contemporary society and its values. What does Noah’s story of his adjustments to life in the United States, and his ultimate success, reveal about our society and its values, both on a social and a material level?
(b) In David Copperfield, the protagonist announces at the beginning, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” In what ways is Noah the hero of his own life? In what ways is he not? If he is not, then who is?
8. Noah’s adoptive mother acknowledges her pre-adoption concerns about being able to love an Asian mixed-race child, who was raised by another woman up to school-age, as much as her own, in an era where ethnic intermarriage and interracial adoptions were decidedly less common. Yet she forges ahead and accepts Young Nam into her family. Interracial adoption has an emotionally-charged history in the United States, with proponents believing that love overcomes all difficulties, and opponents maintaining that transracial adoptions create unique burdens for the adopted children. How does Noah’s story contribute to that debate?
Book Club Questions are courtesy of Seattle-area book club members: Betsy Cohen, Shari Koppel, and Ellen Alkan.
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