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|The questions that
follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of
THE JEWEL TRADER OF PEGU by Jeffrey Hantover.
1. Abraham is faced with the conflicting demands of heart and
religious law: “Why do the law and one’s heart not always point in the
same direction?” Following one undercuts the other. Is this conflict
unique to his situation or does it have more universal resonance? In the
conflict of law and heart is it farfetched to see a literary kinship
between Abraham and Huckleberry Finn?
2. Abraham faces a series of choices in Pegu that give structure to the
novel. Discuss those choices and the difficulty or ease with which he is
able to make them.
3. Abraham writes to Joseph, “Perhaps my journey taken reluctantly may
lead me as far inward as it has outward across oceans and desert.
Perhaps I may return to Venice a better cartographer of my soul than if
I had remained.” What is it about external travel that prompts and
promotes inner journeys of self-discovery?
4. Mya did not travel as many miles to arrive in Pegu as Abraham, but
she too takes a journey of changed perceptions, attitudes and
self-awareness. Compare her inner journey with Abraham’s.
5. It is difficult in historical novels to give voice to the voiceless,
to those like Mya who didn’t leave diaries or letters or take actions
that were the stuff of historical analysis. What are the challenges of
giving voice to the voiceless, and in Mya has the author achieved in
drawing a believable character with a developed interior life?
6. Buddhism is presented to the reader through Abraham who doesn’t fully
understand it. We see it through his limited eyes. Does this hinder the
reader’s full appreciation of the conflict between the two faiths or
does it make his gradual acceptance of some of its principles all the
7. Abraham journeys from damning Win’s beliefs as superstition to a
respect for Buddhist beliefs. As the circle of his experiences expand so
does the vantage point from which he judges the beliefs of others. Can
we be fully moral beings without stepping outside our own cultural
values to judge the actions of others? And if we are able to see our
beliefs in relative terms, can we still be guided by them or are we set
8. Stephen Fry, the English actor and author, said, “Well, we have to
start somewhere, and if nothing else will lead us toward truth the loins
may as well. Just as long as the heart and the mind follow and finally
overtake, then maybe nothing has been lost.” What do you think he would
have thought of Abraham and Mya’s journey from “loins” to love?
9. Is personal redemption a young person’s game or can we at any time in
our lives, break the bonds of our character and redeem ourselves?
10. Abraham starts out as man longing to remain an observer of life but
cannot escape taking action. Describe the forces that move him from
observation to engagement. Is engagement a requirement of the moral
11. Abraham and Mya are divided by so much – religion, culture, language
– and yet they fall in love and are willing to make wrenching sacrifices
for each other. Is their love believable to you? If not, is that because
of the author’s limitations or the mystery of love itself?