Like I’ve said in our small group discussions, I love both these books for their commentary on particular social/culture issues and for the insights they provide on deeper, existential issues that are universal to all people. I’ll explain the separate prompts for each book below, but what I’m basically asking you to do is to 1.) Reflect on how your novel explores specific “deep questions” and to 2.) Write personally about your own opinion on these questions.
(For No Way Out – “Karma and Suffering”)
“He gazed out into the darkness as if in search for an answer…Why, Ort kept wondering, hadn’t he been born into a rich family, like the ones he saw when he as running around selling newspapers?” (Korbjitti 97)
“Life! What a life! What was it, this thing called happiness? What was it like? Hardship and bitterness were all he had ever tasted, so that he had grown accustomed to their flavor.” (Korbjitti 125)
Why does suffering exist, and what causes it? How should we cope with suffering? How should humans respond to suffering and evil? Can a good God or controlling force exist in a world of so much suffering and evil? To what extent are we responsible for the suffering or blessings that we experience in life? Should we pin our hopes or our blame for our lives on the spiritual or material world? Is karmic justice possible in a world full of so much injustice? Why do bad things happen to good people? *Whew.* Obviously, these are big questions that I’m sure all of us have encountered and considered to a certain extent. To me, these questions can be summed up in the general terms “karma” and “suffering” — topics with which all philosophical worldviews and religions contend. Yes, No Way Out is an extremely dark novel, and Korbjitti’s characters endure what to me is unimaginable hardship. Yet despite its darkness, I think one of the redeeming things about the book is the author’s ability to get at the brutal heart of these big topics, as a result of the family’s extreme circumstances. So, as I’ve said, first write a bit about how you see these profound questions explored in No Way Out. Then, reflect personally, either on these topics in general, or share your opinion on how Korbjitti treats them in the book.
(For Nectar in a Sieve – “The Power of Hope”)
Hope, and fear. Twin forces that tugged at us first in one direction and then in another, and which was the stronger no one could say. Of the latter we never spoke, but it was always with us. Fear, constant companion of the peasant. Hunger, ever at hand to jog his elbow should he relax. Despair, ready to engulf him should he falter. Fear; fear of the dark future; fear of the sharpness of hunger; fear of the blackness of death. (Markandaya 78)
As is so vividly captured in this quote (as well as the novel’s title), one of the most powerful “deep questions” Nectar in a Sieve investigates is the power and meaning of hope. Obviously, the word “hope” may elicit a range of impressions from each one of you. You could certainly consider the concept from a psychological perspective or from a more philosophical or spiritual perspective. Personally, I would say that this topic has been among the most difficult and profound that I’ve wrestled with in my work and friendships with refugees here, and even as I’ve helped students deal with painful personal issues over the years. As I’ve walked through challenges with them and have tried to empathize with their plights, my mind has been plagued with numerous hope-related questions. Why is having hope so important? How can someone whose future is completely uncertain maintain hope? Should we focus our hopes on the physical world or on the spiritual realm? Can having too much hope, at times, be irrational, or even dangerous? Is hope itself an illusion, in a fallen world that operates completely outside of my control? This is deep and complicated stuff!
So, as I’ve said, first write a bit about how you see these profound questions explored in Nectar in a Sieve. Then, reflect personally, either on these topics in general, or share your opinion on how Markandaya treats them in the book.