Reading Group Guide
A SCRIBNER PAPERBACK FICTION READING GROUP GUIDE
1. Initially, Elena is "able to live with the worry by telling herself that what Mark did was important, even noble." Is a war photographers's job admirable? Or could it be considered exploitive? How do Mark's experiences highlight the difficulty of being an observer -- instead of a participant -- in war? Compare and contrast Mark's career with Elena's job as a refugee program coordinator at the UN.
2. Is it wrong for Colin to travel into a war zone and endanger his life while Diane is pregnant with their first baby? Discuss the impact of dangerous careers on spouses and children. Why do you think Mark is so adamant about wanting to have a baby with Elena when he returns from Kurdistan?
3. When did you begin to suspect that Mark might know more about Colin's fate than he first admits? Do you think he deliberately withholds his knowledge of Colin's death or subconsciously blocks it from memory?
4. Joaquin Morales is disdainful of traditional psychotherapy and dismissive of Elena's suggestion that Mark see a "real" doctor. Yet Joaquin's "cure" helped patients at his institute and seems to work for Mark as well. What do you think of "Dr." Morales' unique approach to therapy? How would you describe his methods? What does the book as a whole seem to say about the field of psychology and the nature of expertise?
5. Joaquin Morales says: "There is no salvation, Mark. There is no God to forgive you and there is no psychiatrist who can cure you. This Western idea that we can pass over our pains, how absurd! You never pass over them. You carry them with you forever. That is what it means to live." Do you agree with him? Does traditional therapy seek to eliminate pain instead of helping people accept it?
6. "Triage" -- the prioritizing of who will get medical treatment under extreme circumstances -- seems rather ruthless as practiced by Dr. Talzani in the Harir cave. Discuss the ethics of this selection process and how it relates to fate and the randomness of war. Why did Anderson choose Triage as the title of his book?
7. Compare and contrast Dr. Talzani's mercy killings of the "blues" in the Harir cave with Dr. Morales's murder of dangerous "incurables" at his institute. How does each man justify his dual role as healer and murderer? Do you find their reasons compelling or repugnant? Compare their killings with Mark's hastening of Colin's death. Can murder -- or euthanasia -- be a moral act?
8. After revealing the secret of Carlos Perez's fate, Joaquin says to Elena: "What to make of old Papa now? Not just the 'Fascist Father Confessor' but the killer of killers. Better or worse?" Answer his question. Why does Elena finally forgive her grandfather for his past? Do times of war require unique or altered ethical codes?
9. Dr. Talzani says: "There is no pattern to who lives or dies in war. Some live, some die. It's the only way to view it. Anything else is just self-torture and arrogance." Dr. Morales says: "We invented history for the same reason we invented God, because the alternative is too terrible to imagine. To accept that there is no reason for any of it, that we are only animals and there is no explaining the things we do, that happen to us -- too awful, no?" Do you agree or disagree with these statements? Are both men fatalists? Compare and contrast their philosophies about life and war.
10. Do you think that Mark Walsh will continue with his career as a war photographer after his traumatic experiences in Kurdistan? Why or why not?
Note from the Author
While I've never thought of Triage as an autobiographical novel, the fact is I started writing it in circumstances quite similar to those facing Mark at the beginning of the book. I had just returned to the United States from a war zone -- Sri Lanka -- where I had gone through a rather traumatic experience, and found that I was incapable of talking about it to any of my family or friends. Instead, I moved to a city where I knew no one -- Baltimore -- holed up in a squalid little apartment, and spent four months feverishly writing the first draft of the book.
That was eleven years ago, and that first draft, frankly, wasn't very good. The problem, I gradually realized, was that I was writing with the same sort of emotional numbness that I felt. It took a long time, and many more drafts of the novel, for me to be able to articulate what I truly felt about my experiences in war and to bring what I hope was a deeper emotional honesty to the novel.
Now, if I had to try to describe what I think Triage is about, I would say it is about searching, a search for redemption and a search for belonging. In their own way, the main characters of the book are war-orphans, either physically displaced from their homeland or emotionally displaced from their loved ones; in their own way, they are trying to return to what existed before. What they ultimately discover is that redemption and belonging are part of the same thing, and this discovery holds out the hope that there is a path they might follow to better, happier lives.
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