Discussion Questions

  1. In the opening chapter, Julia eats a mango for the first time. Do you see a symbolic meaning in this? If so, what is it?
  2. In the second chapter, at a dinner party, the characters discuss the murder of an American boy by the drivers he had cheated? Do you think the drivers were justified? Why or why not?
  3. In Asia, things are not always what they seem. Bill Harper tells his dinner guests that the Ambassador “doesn’t understand the rules of the game” in Asia, and speaks about a façade. What does he mean?
  4. At the Chez Tyna bar, Jake tells Julia that Nicole has “an old soul” in the Buddhist sense. What does he mean?
  5. At the swimming pool, Julia has what she calls “an encounter manqué”—a missed meeting—with her future lover. What is the other missed meeting between the two that occurs much later?
  6. When Julia runs into Jake outside Hourani’s bungalow, he tells her that “these people don’t play by the same rules.” What does he mean by that?
  7. At Kep, Hourani tells Julia that “real life is much more interesting” than American films with Doris Day. What does he mean? Do you agree or disagree?
  8. At the art show, a librarian brushes insects out of the way—then sprays insecticide. And a government official tells Julia her magazine can’t show a picture of a school with thatched walls. What do these two things illustrate about the Cambodian mindset? How does it differ from a western mindset?
  9. When Harper says that “Dulles is dead, but neutralism is still suspect,” what does that tell you about US foreign policy during the Cold War era? And when he tells Julia that we should be thinking about what the people outside on the street think and that the murder of the boy by the cyclo drivers might hint at in the future, what is he unknowingly prophesying?
  10. The French fencing master refers to educated Cambodians as “evolved ones.” In the ”Sea Change” chapter, Filipinos who have embraced Spanish culture are called “enlightened.” Do you find this condescending, ethnocentric? Why or why not?
  11. Did the US learn anything from the French experience in Indochina? What should we have learned?
  12. The Embassy press attaché doesn’t want to publicize Martin Luther King’s March on Washington because it would be “washing our dirty laundry in public.” Do you agree or disagree?
  13. When Julia’s American party guests learn about the coup against Diem in Viet Nam, they are jubilant, but Julia’s maid, Lanh, is distraught. In hindsight, who was right?
  14. How does the assassination of JFK precipitate a crisis in US-Cambodian relations? What could the US have done to avoid this?
  15. What is the theme of Mango Rains? Can you point to a passage or passages that illustrate this theme?
  16. At the airport, Julia overhears someone say “Partir, c’est mourir un peu.”—to leave, or part, is to die a little. How does Julia interpret this? Do you agree with her interpretation?
  17. Elaine lets Becker drive her car, but when he hits a pedestrian and makes Elaine take the driver’s seat, she is furious and contrasts his lack of honor with that of her erstwhile lover, Tom. But there is a hint that both Becker and Tom acted from less than honorable motivations. How would you evaluate each of the men’s sense of honor?
  18. After the accident in “The Color of the Sea Queen”, Becker hints that it was all a scam, and that the Dutch priest was in on it? Do you think that was true?
  19. What is Elaine seeking when she goes around to all the festivals in India? Do you think she finds it in the end?
  20. In “The Dead Heart of Africa”, should Tom have treated Sheila differently when they say goodbye at the airport? Should he have told her that Elaine was dead?
  21. When the boy, Ram, throws the rotten mango on the ground and its insides splatter, what does that symbolize? How does this differ with the symbolism of the mango in the opening chapter?
  22. Several of the characters in Mango Rains take questionable moral shortcuts just to survive. For example, Bill spies for the Chinese and Nicole leaves her children and deceives her husband to be. What other characters take questionable actions in order to survive? Are any of these actions justified? What should they have done?
  23. In her journal, Julia writes that she is “happy enough”? What does that mean? She also writes that “people say it’s a small world, but they’re wrong.” Do you agree or disagree?