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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Foreign Student

1. How are Katherine and Chang similar in terms of family, education, social class, and other factors? What kinds of experience and influences do they have in common? In what way is each a refugee?

2. What losses do Chang, Katherine, and other characters suffer? How does each deal with his or her losses? How do their losses affect their subsequent lives and expectations?

3. Choi writes that it was his past "against which Joe [Monroe] defined himself, and which in Katherine's family set the standard for everything." (pg. 24) To what extent is this also true of Katherine, herself, of Chang, of Addison, and of other characters? How does it relate to Chang's being "used to the constant pressure of the future"? (pg. 41) At what point do Katherine and Chang, in fact, permit the present and possible futures to provide the standards for their thoughts, feelings, and behavior?

4. In what ways are Katherine and Chang independent? In what ways are their lives constricted or determined by society, other people, and other outside forces? What does each learn about independence and dependency?

5. Through his work as a translator, Chang learns that "you wanted one thing to equal another, to slide neatly into its place, but somehow this very desire made the project impossible. In the end there was always a third thing, that hadn't existed before." (pg. 67) To what extent does this also apply to cultural and personal issues confronted by both Chang and Katherine? To what extent are Chang and Katherine each "the third thing . . . Translation's unnatural byproduct"? (pg. 84)

6.Katherine tells Chang, "In my family you never could move a muscle without it being a declaration of loyalty to somebody and war to somebody else." (pg. 150) What loyalties and betrayals, actual and imagined, are important in Katherine's and Chang's lives? What is the impact of each? To what extent does a fear of betraying and of being betrayed hinder each of them in their relationships?

7. What borders and boundaries--for example: geographical, emotional, cultural--are crossed or transgressed? What are the consequences of each crossing or transgression?

8. To what extent is the "total, irresolvable uncertainty" that Chang carries with him after his release from torture characteristic of life itself? How do Chang, Katherine, Addison and others deal with the "total, irresolvable uncertainty" of life?

9. What are Chang and Katherine each looking for that each finds in the other?

10. What are the implications of Choi's setting her story of an interracial love in the American South of the mid-1950s? Why do you think she makes only muted and indirect references to racial prejudice and condescension?

The Foreign Student
by Susan Choi

  • Publication Date: August 4, 1999
  • Paperback: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0060929278
  • ISBN-13: 9780060929275