ELIZABETH ZELVIN

Journey of Strangers
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Discussion Questions for Journey of Strangers

1. Tikkun olam, the repair or healing of the world, is a Jewish concept that is important to the characters in Journey of Strangers. In what ways can individuals in our own time repair the world? How important do you think such issues are? What have you done or dreamed of doing to repair the world?

2. After leaving the gods of his people behind, Hutia plans to convert to Judaism so he can marry Rachel but then decides to convert to Islam instead. What do you think of his decision to become a Muslim? For what reasons do people change their religion? How do the motivations of people in our own time who convert from one religion to another differ from those of people in the fifteenth century, including the characters in the book? What do you think of people who make that choice??

3. At different times in Journey of Strangers, Diego, Rachel, and Joanna all struggle with their desire to have a sense of purpose. What kinds of changes, both unexpected and predictable, such as stages in the life cycle, can bring up this issue for people in our own time? How important to you is having a sense of purpose? Can you think of anyone whose sense of purpose you particularly admire?

4. Although there are no battle scenes in the book, war plays an important part in Journey of Strangers. In what ways does war, past, present, or future, affect the characters’ actions and decisions? In what ways does war in the twenty-first century differ from war in the fifteenth century, and in what ways is it the same?

5. As in Voyage of Strangers, the previous book about Diego, an important theme in Journey of Strangers is that of being an outsider. In what ways are Diego and Rachel still outsiders even after being reunited with their family? In what ways are Hutia and Joanna outsiders? Do you think they will always be outsiders? What makes a person or a group of people outsiders? Are there people or groups of people whom you perceive as outsiders? In what ways, if any, have you ever been an outsider yourself?

6. The concept of cultural relativism, developed by anthropologist Franz Boas in the early twentieth century, holds that the beliefs, values, and customs of any culture must be understood within the context of that culture, and that therefore all cultures’ beliefs, values, and customs are equally valid. To what extent do the main characters in Journey of Strangers exemplify cultural relativism? What do you think caused these characters to transcend the absolutism of their era and their various cultures? Do you think it is realistic to portray these fifteenth-century characters as being cultural relativists? What obstacles to maintaining these values do you think they would have encountered? To what extent are you a cultural relativist?


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