An Unexpected Guest: A Novel

By Anne Korkeakivi
Publisher:Little, Brown and Company, (4/17/2012)

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Clare Moorhouse, the American wife of a high-ranking diplomat in Paris, is arranging an official dinner crucial to her husband's career. As she shops for fresh stalks of asparagus and works out the menu and seating arrangements, her day is complicated by the unexpected arrival of her son and a random encounter with a Turkish man, whom she discovers is a suspected terrorist.

Like Virginia Woolf did in Mrs. Dalloway, Anne Korkeakivi brilliantly weaves the complexities of an age into an act as deceptively simple as hosting a dinner party.
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"An Unexpected Guest: A Novel"
By Anne Korkeakivi

Average Rating:

This book has not been rated

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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. Who or what do you think the “unexpected guest” would be? Might there be more than one?

2. Memory plays an important part in this novel. What weight does memory have in our lives? How might even bad memories be useful?

3. What are we entitled to shed from our pasts, and what do we have to bear?

4. Have you ever been in a comparable situation to Clare’s in her youth, or known someone who has? What changed for Clare that made the way she responded as a college student so disturbing to her as a full-fledged adult?

5. The book talks a lot about making choices. Who do you think bears responsibility for Clare’s youthful choice? Clare? Niall? Neither? What do you think of the choice(s) Clare makes at the end of the book?

6. When Clare was growing up, many communities considered the IRA to be a terrorist group while other communities considered IRA members to be freedom fighters and openly supported them. What effect might 9/11 have had on perceptions of terrorism? On support for groups some consider to be terrorist?

7. What is the difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist? What do you think of Niall? Are there instances when political action—even violent—outside of accepted norms is defensible?

8. In chapter 7, Clare reflects on the public’s opinion of diplomats. Has the importance or nature of international diplomacy changed in recent decades? If so, how and why?

9. Clare inhabits a beautiful apartment in Paris with full-time staff. But, in chapter 4, she reflects on the rarity of privacy, the “shortage of free will,” and the “constant menace of relocation.” In chapter 9, she points out: “The splendor belonged to the crown; she and Edward were just staff (and she unpaid staff, at that).” How would you feel within Clare’s lifestyle?

10. What effect has 9/11 had on global and expatriate life?

11. Clare graduated from Harvard and speaks multiple languages, but she puts her career on a back burner for the sake of her husband’s. Why has she chosen to do this? Does it satisfy her? How are the compromises in their marriage particular to their situation as a foreign-service family, and how might they be common to many marriages?

12. In the course of the novel, Clare proves to be the ultimate multitasking woman, handling a medley of personal, professional, and familial needs while preparing and hosting a formal dinner party. How would you have tackled her day? Are there ways in which you find yourself balancing your public and private lives?

13. Clare and Edward keep secrets from each other, and we learn that Edward has distinct views on the matter. Do you think that in a marriage it is necessary to know everything about your partner?

14. Jamie is very much his mother’s son: fiercely private to the point where Clare knows confronting him is likely to silence him, but innately passionate. How have his life experiences – child of a dual-national marriage, having lived in many places – also influenced the way he acts?

15. What do you think of Clare’s initial efforts to protect Jamie from his father and Edward from Jamie? What do you think of her eventual course of action? How would you have dealt with Jamie’s situation?

16. In chapter 7, Clare says she sometimes felt she needed her children as much as they needed her, that her children were “anchors in the floating world.” What does she mean by that?

17. In chapter 11, Clare tells the story of the Burghers of Calais and of the artist Rodin’s decision to portray them as distinct from one another. One, Andrieu d’Andres, is depicted as particularly distressed by the act of self-sacrifice he is about to commit. Was this portrayal disrespectful? Realistic?

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