Readers Guide for The Climate of the Country
"This is a compelling novel of sorrow, idealism and loyalty documenting how Japanese Americans were driven from their American homes into American concentration camps and how they struggled honorably to preserve their dignity in the face of insult and exile." -- Grace Paley
The Climate of the Country opens as violence erupts at the Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp. The story is told from the unique insider view of Denton Jordan, a conscientious objector, and his wife Esther, living and working in the Camp. Denton is a pacifist during a time when being a man means "shouldering a gun for America," while Esther is the daughter of Jewish intellectuals actively involved in getting Jews out of Europe.
"Novelist Mueller was born in the Tule Lake Camp, and her story is loosely based on her parents' experiences, but what makes this a riveting novel is not only the strong sense of history and the par ticulars of the racist internment but also the way the politics is played out in family, work, and erotic love." -- American Library Association's Booklist
"[Mueller] has given us a morally intricate story splendidly evoca tive of the place and the times, told with great drive and clarity, peopled with vividly realized characters. I hope her book will at tract the wide readership it deserves." -- Norman Rush
"Mueller is to be commended for alerting general audiences to the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war and the obvious racism that motivated their hugely unjust incarceration." -- Library Journal
"An engrossing character study of two highly principled people forced by their patriotism and wartime duress to act against their beliefs and at the expense of their marriage. Simple, unadorned prose illuminates the starkness of the setting and the ethical and emotional dilemmas faced by the protagonists." -- Publishers Weekly
TOPICS TO CONSIDER
1. What is "The Climate of the Country" the title refers to? Are there other periods in American history which the title would fit?
2. Is there another title that would have suited the story?
3. How would you describe Denton and Esther's marriage?
4. Commitment to a person or a cause is generally regarded as a positive trait. In what ways does commitment lead to problems in this novel?
5. Auden once wrote: "I and the public know / What all school children learn. / Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return." How does that comment fit Nebo and others in the novel?
6. Herm and Denton's friendship is nearly destroyed when Herm blames Denton for Toki's death. Where does the responsibility for Toki's death lie?
7. Why does Denton continue his affair with Alice after vowing to himself to end it?
8. Discuss Denton. Was he a coward or very brave?
9. What do you think of Herm's advice to Denton (p. 281) never to tell Esther about his affair with Alice? How is it similar to the advice given to Esther (p. 243) by her grandmother?
10. Do you feel that some of the conflicts in the novel are not neatly or fully resolved, and if so, do you consider it a flaw or a strength?
11. Differences in culture often lead to miscommunications and misunderstandings. Can you find examples of cultural insensitivity that lead to conflict? On the other hand, what are some of the common grounds of understanding in the novel?
12. The U.S. was at war with both Germany and Japan. Why were the Japanese Americans interned but not German Americans?
13. Do you think that most American citizens are aware of how citizens and immigrants of Japanese ancestry were treated during World War II? If not, why not?
14. How would you describe the relationship between Esther and her grandmother? How is it crucial, especially in Esther's ultimate acceptance of her mother?