Readers Guide

Discussion questions for Book Clubs

  1. In what ways can “Forbidden Fruit” be understood as a heroine’s journey? Does it share features with classic works like Homer’s Odyssey or more modern works like Wild?
  2. What are the most significant features of the author’s journey? Jung wrote about archetypal journeys. They can be an identity quest, or the search for love, for the promised land, or a journey in search of knowledge. Do any of these help to think about the author’s story?
  3. In what ways is the story unique or universal?
  4. What is the author referring to by calling her book “Forbidden Fruit?”
  5. The author claims she is fusing memoir with journalism. Which part works better for you or is it an effective mix?
  6. How does the author’s character work – both as actor of her story and of reflective narrator of her story? Do you empathize with the author’s emotional arc?
  7. Truth is a major issue for memoirists. Are you convinced of the veracity of Pellett’s writing?
  8. Is this personal story more effective in understanding a particular moment in Chinese history than, say, a traditional third person historical treatment? Explain.
  9. The author seems determined to challenge the government policy forbidding normal relationships between Chinese and foreigners. Does she try hard enough? Are you sympathetic with her efforts? Do you have a feel for her Chinese acquaintances – their characters, their psychological conflicts about this policy?
  10. Does the author change over the course of the story? If so, how?
  11. In the prologue the author claims The Personal is Political. How does that work in the story that follows?
  12. The author reflects on her identity and values and how they have been called into question in Beijing. Have you ever experienced a situation where your identity has been denied or unappreciated?
  13. The author claims she felt like a cultural imperialist at times. Do you agree?
  14. Pellett was a journalist invited to Radio Beijing for her professional expertise and then treated as a spy. How does she handle this contradiction?
  15. At one point the author questions whether we can ever truly understand another culture. What is her reasoning?
  16. The author asks “How do we know the Other?” Does she successfully answer this question?
  17. Were there surprising discoveries for you about Chinese history, specific characters, that post-Cultural Revolution moment?
  18. How do the author’s early life experiences – her relationship with her mother, or her history of work – affect her experiences in China?
  19. So much of the story is about the author’s effort to craft friendships with some Chinese. At the end of the book the author examines the nature of her friendships in the West, in her life before her China experience. What does she conclude?
  20. The author – while looking at what she learned from the experience, claims that she failed. How? Explain.