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The Mistress of Spicesby Chitra Divakaruni
Reading Group Guide
1. The New York Times Book Review states that The Mistress of Spices "becomes a novel about choosing between a life of special powers and one of ordinary love and compassion." Did Tilo choose correctly? Why or why not?
2. How do the spices become characters in the novel?
3. Tilo only speaks her name out loud to one person in the novel. What is the significance of this action? What role do names play in the novel?
4. What do the spices take from Tilo? What do they give her? Is it a fair exchange?
5. Tilo left her shop for the first time early in the novel to look at Haroun's cab. But later she is drawn even further out by Raven. Was her course already set at that point? Would she have left again even without Raven's pull?
6. In what ways is punishment seen as a natural force in this novel? How are punishment and retribution tied to balance?
7. Tilo says, "Better hate spoken than hate silent." Does hate spoken achieve the effect Tilo intends or not?
8. Divakaruni chose to write The Mistress of Spices in the first person present tense. Does this point of view add or detract from the story?
9. What passages of the novel resemble poetry? How does Divakaruni make use of lyricism and rhythm?
10. What role does physical beauty play in this story? In Tilo's feelings about her body? About Raven? About the bougainvillea girls?
11. Does Raven's story (pp. 161-171) differ from Tilo's story of her past at the points where she tells it? Do these differences say anything about the differences between women and men, or between Indians and Americans?
12. How are physical acts of violence and disaster foreshadowed in the novel? What is the significance of foreshadowing in Indian culture?
13. For Discussion: Divakaruni's Novels and Stories
What do the characters in Divakaruni's novels and stories lose and gain as they become more "American"?
14. In the story "Affair," Abha says, "It's not wrong to be happy, is it? To want more out of life than fulfilling duties you took on before you knew what they truly meant?" How is this idea further developed in The Mistress of Spices? In Sister of My Heart?
15. In Divakaruni's stories, women are wives and mothers, but the men are portrayed primarily as husbands, not fathers. How are the men's roles in the novels similar to or different from those in the stories?
16. How does the Indian immigrant experience compare to that of other immigrants--Spanish, Italian, Chinese?
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