Reading Group Guide
Drawing in the Dust
When called upon by a young Arab couple to investigate a cistern that lies beneath their home, Page Brookstone discovers more than she bargained for. The couple believes the cistern is the reason that the spirits of two lovers keep appearing in their home, while Page’s colleagues believe that the young couple are all but insane and that she should stay away. Page, however, takes the opportunity to investigate the site and discovers that, in fact, it is not a cistern, but a tomb. In it are the remains of an ancient Israelite, the prophet Jeremiah, buried alongside a woman who may have been his lover, and a set of scrolls that tell of their great love. In uncovering the mystery of a centuries-old romance that defies convention, Page could be onto the archaeological discovery of a lifetime. The findings also sets Page on a path of self-discovery, where she is forced to dig into long-buried issues from her own past, which along with a new and unexpected romance, reawaken her from the stupor in which she’s been living. Author Zoe Klein, who is also the youngest female congregational rabbi in the United States, elegantly blends fact and fiction with two appealing love stories; however, the novel also engages powerful questions of identity, family, discovery, politics, and sexuality with originality and subtlety.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
- The Barakats believe the ground beneath their house is haunted and claim to have seen spirits in their home. How does their faith contribute to this belief? Do you think that Page begins believing in ghosts and the paranormal as the book progresses? Who are the skeptics and who are the cynics of the novel?
- Discuss the various aspects of faith as they relate to the novel. Do not limit yourself to strictly religious faith, but also discuss everyday matters of faith, i.e. the hope and belief that things will always work out for the best, etc.
- What parts of the book made you reflect upon your own feelings and beliefs about religion? How do you feel about the religious restrictions placed on Page and Mortichai’s relationship? What was your reaction to the destruction of the archaeological finds in the name of religion?
- Water makes several appearances in the novel, from the cistern below the Barakats’ home, to baths, to ritual cleansing. What is the symbolism of water throughout the book as it relates to worship and faith?
- The author is a congregational rabbi, a position that has been traditionally held by men. How are traditional gender roles subverted in this story? What is Klein saying by giving Anatiya as much agency as she does? How would the story have been different if Jeremiah had written the scrolls instead?
- The passages from the scrolls which appear at the beginning of each chapter tell of the love story between Jeremiah and Anatiya. How do those passages mirror what happens to the characters in each of those chapters?
- Early in the book Page’s friend points out the difference between a broken heart and a depressed heart. How would you describe the status of Page’s heart at the beginning of the novel? Where is it at the end? How does her relationship with Mortichai change it?
- Page is accused of being able to string together complex concepts, but of being unable to understand simple things such as love. How true do you think this is and why? How does her emotional growth progress throughout the novel?
- The conventional definition of archaeology is the scientific study of historic or prehistoric people and their cultures. Beyond Page’s search into the history of Jeremiah, what else is she searching for in her past as it relates to her family and relationships? What does she discover that she wasn’t searching for?
- Page has chosen a career that isolates her and places her within a small contained group of people. What is she avoiding? Do you see symbolism in her choice of a career in archaeology? Part of the process of archaeology is the constant search for things long hidden, things in the past that will help us better understand the present. What are the various characters searching for? Norris? Page? Itai? The Barakats? Who is more successful in finding what they seek, and why?
Tips for Enhancing Your Bookclub
- Learn more about some of the themes addressed in this novel. Try reading one of the following books about the experience of Jews in the Middle East or stories that deal with displacement.
The Yacoubian Building, a Novel by Alaa Al Aswany
Out of Egypt by Andre Aciman
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, a Novel by Gina Nahai
The House of Sand and Fog, a Novel by Andre Dubus III
The Septembers of Shiraz, a Novel by Dalia Sofer
- Israel is known as the land of “milk and honey,” so this is the perfect opportunity to bring a different type of food into your group the night you discuss Drawing in the Dust. Do some research on traditional Israeli food and prepare some special dishes to share with your group.
- For any members of your group who are not familiar with the Jewish faith, do some research on some of the more traditional Jewish Holidays – Hanukah, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, and create some cards for members of your group that describe the holiday, the history of it, and the traditions of how they’re celebrated. If you are able, try and make a visit to a local synagogue.