Discussion Questions for From This Wicked Patch of Dust
1. What do you think is the significance of the parents’ names, Pilar and Cuauhtémoc? What are the etymologies of these names?
2. Why do you think
the author structures the story in From This Wicked Patch of Dust in
time fragments? What effect does this
have on the storytelling and character development? How is this reflective of what is happening
3. What do the alternating perspectives in chapters, from different family members, reveal about group life within a family? When do you see significant differences in the interpretation of important family events? Why?
4. What is the author indicating about ‘group life’ versus ‘individual life’ within a family? What forms a group, how does it stay a group, and what disintegrates it? Can a new group be formed from the remnants of the values of an old group? How is the novel an allegory of what is happening in our multi-ethnic, religiously diverse, politically fragmented country?
5. How is the island metaphor used throughout this novel, and what are its multiple meanings?
6. Compare and contrast the different personalities of the children, Julia, Francisco, Marcos, and Ismael. What are their different relationships to home and Ysleta? What do you think the author is saying about leaving home, or coming back home, or even recreating your home in a new place?
7. What creates the
sense of home for the
8. Analyze the relationship between Julia and her mother Pilar. In what way does the daughter rebel against and reject the mother’s values? How does Julia also adhere to these values, and make them her own?
9. How do Ismael’s innate curiosity and intelligence separate him from his family? How does he use these characteristics to come back to them? Do you think the Chicano community easily accepts nerds, bookworms, or philosophical outcasts? Why or why not? What kind of problems would these kinds of individuals face in any community?
10. Compare and contrast Francisco’s and Ismael’s
relationship to the family. Is it better
that Francisco never leaves
11. Analyze Ismael’s effort to nurture his literary voice as a writer. What internal obstacles must he overcome? What external ones must he confront? Why? How is being a writer a solitary existence, and how it is also an existence embedded in society?
12. Compare and contrast the different ways in which Pilar and Cuauhtémoc believe in Catholicism. How and why do you think their approach to religion is different? How do their religious beliefs affect how they treat Julia, their daughter who converted to Islam, and Lilah, their Jewish daughter-in-law?
13. Analyze how Ismael, as a husband and father, has broken from the
traditions and values he learned at home in Ysleta, and how he also adapted and
transformed these values in new ways in
14. Describe the benefits and detriments of the interfaith, intercultural marriages in the novel: Ismael and Lilah, Julia-Aliyah and Mohammed, and Marcos and Lori. What do you gain and lose when you marry outside your religion, outside your culture? Why do you think Latinos have one of the highest rates of intermarriage among ethnic groups? Why do some of these marriages succeed, and why do others fail?
15. Analyze Marcos’s letters in the penultimate chapter, “The War in Ysleta.” How and why do the style and content change as Marcos writes to a different family member? Do you think, as Marcos says, that when you write you can say things that you cannot say in person? Why or why not? He also writes that “you can push the world away a bit whenever you write” and send “a piece of myself away” to someone who will read his words later. What does this mean, and why should this matter for any writer?
16. How is the novel, in a way, the manifestation
of Ismael’s literary voice?
What does it mean to be able to put the life of the