The best work yet from the Pulitzer finalist and best-selling author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urgesa political thriller that unfolds in the highly charged territory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pivots on the complex relationship between a secret prisoner and his guard.
A prisoner in a secret cell. The guard who has watched over him a dozen years. An American waitress in Paris. A young Palestinian man in Berlin who strikes up an odd friendship with a wealthy Canadian businessman. And The General, Israel's most controversial leader, who lies dying in a hospital, the only man who knows of the prisoner's existence.
From these vastly different lives Nathan Englander has woven a powerful, intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of its citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwineda political thriller of the highest order that interrogates the anguished, violent division between Israelis and Palestinians, and dramatizes the immense moral ambiguities haunting both sides. Who is right, who is wrongwho is the guard, who is truly the prisoner?
A tour de force from one of America's most acclaimed voices in contemporary fiction.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
NATHAN ENGLANDER is the author of the novel The Ministry of Special Cases, and the story collections For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, winner of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His short fiction has been widely anthologized, most recently in 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories. Englander's play The Twenty-Seventh Man premiered at The Public Theater in 2012. He also translated the New American Haggadah and co-translated Etgar Keret's Suddenly a Knock on the Door. He is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at New York University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter.
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2014, Gaza Border (Israeli side)
Excerpted from "Dinner at the Center of the Earth"
Copyright © 2017 Nathan Englander.
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Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Dinner at the Center of the Earth, the best work yet from Pulitzer finalist and best-selling author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges Nathan Englander.
1. The epigraph, from Julian Barnes, reads, “There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.” What does “accumulation” refer to in the context of this novel?
2. Who do you think is the main character of the novel?
3. Each character believes that he or she is doing the right thing, given the circumstances. In your opinion, whose justifications ring true? Is there “right” or “wrong” here?
4. Throughout the novel, Englander shifts time and perspective. How does this affect the reading experience?
5. On page 8, Englander writes, “In his own defense, as relates to the complication he hasn’t yet copped to, the guard has only been trying to protect Prisoner Z this whole time . . . He’s been guarding Prisoner Z in more ways than the prisoner could understand.” What does he mean?
6. The question of identity laces through the novel—for example, on page 63, Z thinks, “How could he have ended up here? How had a little, religious, Jewish-American boy from Long Island become an Israeli operative, living undercover in Paris, and now a traitor to his adopted state? How could he have ended up being so many kinds of people at once?” What point is Englander making?
7. Discuss the General. What role does he play in the novel?
8. What do we learn from the General’s “Limbo” passages?
9. The structure of the novel is circular, and the conflict itself is in many ways circular (in terms of action and reaction). How is this tied to the novel’s themes? What point do you think Englander is trying to make?
10. How, and in what ways, did Prisoner Z defend or betray his country? Can you make an argument for his patriotism? Is he a traitor or is he loyal? Is it possible to be both? What do you think the author believes?
11. Discuss the relationship between Prisoner Z and the guard. Are they friends? What justification could the guard have had for shielding Prisoner Z from news of the General?
12. On pages 163 and 164, Prisoner Z insists to the guard that he can do something more to help Z’s situation. Later on, the guard brings him a gift. How are these events connected? How do you feel about the Guard’s final gift to Prisoner Z?
13. The guard and Z have similar relationships with their mothers. How do the mothers in the novel serve the story?
14. What insights do we gain from Ruthi’s time in Lifta?
15. On page 224, Englander writes, “This very last time, holding Prisoner Z’s dizzy head in his lap, the guard has gone as far as either dared at addressing it. He had posed a question to Prisoner Z, to himself, to the cameras, as if confronting a power higher than them both. How, oh how, has it come to this?” How would you answer that question?
16. The mapmaker says, on page 234, “Just picture it, the two of us in no-man’s-land, on the blurry line beneath neither country. Me and you, eating together between worlds. A dinner at the center of the earth.” Why is this LAST phrase an apt title for the novel?
17. In what ways is the final scene a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Never read anything by this author before and bought the book on the basis of some positive reviews in the New York Times. I found this writing to be confusing, insulting, arrogant and depressing. It really deserves no star at all.