The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the NEA Big Read Reader Resources. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.
For their essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.
- In the novel's opening pages, the reader learns of the train accident in which Gogol's father Ashoke was seriously injured, but Gogol does not learn of it until late in the novel, when he is nearly an adult. Does learning the story change Gogol's attitude toward his father, and toward his own name? Why or why not?
- Gogol is born in 1968, a time of great political and cultural unrest in the U.S. As young immigrants, his parents are often at odds with the more rebellious and experimental aspects of American youth culture. Research cultural trends from the late 60s into the 70s, and explore how Gogol's parents' values might have been in conflict with those trends.
- Gogol ends his relationship with Maxine Ratliff shortly after his father's death. Why? How does the loss of his father change Gogol's attitudes toward his family's heritage? Discuss the flashback in which Ashoke and a very young Gogol walk on the jetty. What is the significance of that scene?
- When Gogol begins a relationship with Moushumi Mazoomdar, he knows that he's finally fulfilling his mother's wish for him to be involved with a Bengali woman. How do parental expectations (on both sides) affect Gogol's relationship and marriage to Moushumi? Would the marriage have had more chance for success without cultural pressure? Why or why not?
- Gogol and his sister Sonia do not enjoy the family's regular trips to visit relatives in India. Discuss the elements of these trips that make the siblings uncomfortable. How does the family's life in America differ most strikingly from their time in India?
- Upon his departure for college, Gogol has his name legally changed to Nikhil. Why is changing his name so important to him, and what does having a new name signify for his future? What is Gogol's attitude toward his name at the end of the novel? Has it changed, and if so, why?