Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

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The Descartes Highlands


The American debut novel by the winner of the National Book Award of the Philippines.

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Discussion Guide for The Descartes Highlands

1. Does the book make any overt statement about race? If so, how does the author convey it?

2. How does the novel deal with the issue of identity and belonging as far as Amerasians are concerned? How is this similar to or different from previously published works by other Asian American authors?

3. What does the book have to say about post-colonial identity and relationships?

4. Does the book take any stand on the issue of abortion? If so, how does the author tackle this issue?

5. What statement do you think the author is trying to convey about social media and alienation?

6. The novel cross-references art and philosophy. How do these sources apply to the story and the characters? The novel also explores the impossibility of arriving at “truth.” What is “truth”? Is it possible to know for certain which facts are true, or does our perception alter reality?

7. Research deeper into America’s role in the Marcos dictatorship. Does this affect your reading of Brezsky’s story?

8. Is Cotard’s syndrome believable? How large a role do you think the brain plays in our emotions, and the way we interpret our perceptions?

9. Look at some films by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Béla Tarr, Aleksandr Sokurov, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, and Michelangelo Antonioni. Do you recognize narrative techniques or scenes borrowed by the author? Compare the use of the mystical and the existential in these films and the novel.

10. How does the novel tackle class and cross-cultural/interracial relationships in a global market?