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  1. Book ImageHunger: A Novella and Stories

    Lan Samantha Chang

    “Spare and haunting tales that ask ordinary questions about that extraordinary emotion: love.”—Chicago Tribune

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the title novella set the stage for the stories that follow? What themes were you able to trace throughout the book, and how were they adapted or expanded so that no two scenes or situations, however similar, seemed repetitive?
  2. In “Hunger,” how are both Min and Tian made to feel undeserving of their good fortune? Is their guilt justified?
  3. In several of these stories, and especially in “The Unforgetting,” the acts of remembering and forgetting bring about real, tangible change—they’re not just mental exercises. How do Chang’s characters act out these processes, and why?
  4. In “Hunger,” Min writes, “I began to understand that to love another was to be a custodian of that person’s decline.” How and why do Min and other characters stick out difficult relationships? How does one partner’s decline, either physical or emotional, affect the other?
  5. In the stories, especially those in which immigrant parents raise their children to speak English, language plays an important role. How does it divide people? When does it bring them together? What forms of expression take over when a parent, for example, doesn’t speak his/her child’s strongest language?
  6. In “Hunger,” Min wants to tell her daughter that “when you stay in one place long enough, it becomes a part of you whether you want it to or not.” Can the immigrants in these stories adapt to new homelands while remaining a part of where they’re from? How is this straddling of two worlds both advantageous and devastating?
  7. What do the parents in these stories have in common? How do different parents balance the need for leniency and discipline?
  8. Can you draw any parallels between Anna from “Hunger” and Charles from “The Unforgetting” or do they seem too dissimilar?
  9. Ghosts play a large role in several of Chang’s stories, with the dead inhabiting the world of the living. Comparing the ghosts of “Hunger” and “The Eve of the Spirit Festival” to the daughter “seduced by a water ghost” in “Water Names,” can you hazard any guesses as to why Chang uses ghosts as characters?
  10. How do the children in “Hunger” both seek and deny their parents’ approval? Why is there often a “good daughter” and a “bad daughter,” and are these roles fixed?
  11. Children including Anna, Ruth, Caroline, and Charles exhibit extraordinary talents—for mathematics, music, the study of history, etc. How are their abilities both a burden and an escape? How do these talents allow them to become independent individuals?
  12. Both “Water Names” and “Pipa’s Story” have mystical elements that distinguish them from the grittier, more mundane realities of the other stories. How does Chang evoke this atmosphere of magic, of uniqueness?
  13. What role does China play for the characters? How is it possible that one person might perceive it paradoxically as both familiar and foreign, appealing and yet something to be forgotten?
  14. In “San,” Caroline describes, “The charm of Brooklyn, this wide shabby street bustling with immigrants like ourselves, was enough to make [my father] feel lucky.” How is New York perceived by the Chinese who move there? Do they see it and America as a “melting pot” for them?
  15. Chang’s characters often point out the physical and emotional similarities between parents and their children. How do some of these children “become their parents”? Can inheritance and environment trump personal desire, or is there something else about the children that keeps them from turning out differently?
  16. Chang pits rational thinking against superstition and religious ritual. Give some examples of moments in which faith wins out over the rational, and others in which rational thinking defeats superstition. Do you think Chang is more comfortable with faith or rationality?

About Lan Samantha Chang

Lan Samantha Chang's fiction has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Story and The Best American Short Stories 1994 and 1996. Chang is the author of the award-winning books Hunger and Inheritance, and the novel All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. She is the recipient of the Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote fellowships at Stanford University. She also received, from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a Teaching-Writing fellowship and a Michener-Copernicus fellowship. Her many awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where she directs the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Books by Lan Samantha Chang

  1. Book CoverAll Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost: A Novel

    "A smart, thoughtful, and often poignant meditation."—Boston GlobeMore

  2. Book CoverHunger: A Novella and Stories

    “Spare and haunting tales that ask ordinary questions about that extraordinary emotion: love.”—Chicago TribuneMore

  3. Book CoverInheritance: A Novel

    Spanning seven decades and set in China and America against a backdrop of political chaos and social upheaval, this arresting debut novel tells a timeless story of familial devotion undermined by deceit and passion and rebuilt by memory.More