Book Discussion Questions: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Remembering Babylon book coverTitle:  Remembering Babylon
Author:  David Malouf
Page Count: 200 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary, Aboriginal Fiction
Tone:  Lyrical, Thought-Provoking, Strong Sense of Place

In the mid-1840s, a thirteen year old boy is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans.

These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement:  2016 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1.  What would you say this book is about?

2.  In what way does the introduction of an outsider/newcomer expose the true character of the community? of the individuals?

3.  What were the two initial reactions of the village? Were these responses understandable? What qualities do the two groups have in common?

4.  Describe what you know of Gemmy. How old did you imagine him to be? Who is he at heart? Is he intelligent? Did you sympathize with him? Did anything change your opinion of him?

5.  Was Gemmy an innocent? Why did he come in the first place? Do your answers affect your experience of the story in any way?

6.  From the opening scene, it seems as if Gemmy is the central character, but he later simply disappears. Does this mean he isn’t the focus of the story?

7.  How does the setting contribute to the story? Is this simply a historical account of Australia, or is there a universal element to the book? What is the implied relation between Gemmy’s fate and the progress of Australian history?

8.  In many ways, Janet is closest to Gemmy – the one who understands him, the one he most accepts. Janet is also the focus of several pivotal scenes. Why? What is the author attempting to say, for instance, in

a. her “growing-up” moment
b. the swarm of bees
c. the final scenes as a nun (with Lachlan)

9.  What story is being told with the other characters:

a. Jock McIvor?
b. Mr. Frazer?
c. George Abbot?
d. Mrs. Hutchence?

10.  How did Lachlan Beattie’s character contribute to the story? How did he change? Why do you think he was made a Minister of the government? Did his experiences with Gemmy contribute at all to this path?

11.  Gemmy is repeatedly called a “black-white man” or even “a parody of a white man”. How does the question of race and identity impact the situation? the story as a whole?

12.  What was it that the people feared?

13.  Though Malouf employs multiple points of view, he leaves the aboriginal characters as enigmas. Why might he have chosen to do this? If the aboriginies had never visited, would Gemmy’s treatment have eventually been the same anyway?

14.  How does Gemmy’s treatment by the aborigines both parallel and differ from his treatment by Englishmen?

15.  In your opinion, what became of Gemmy?

16.  Which scenes stand out as particularly impactful?

17.  What did you think of Janet’s statement near the end, “He was just Gemmy, whom we loved….”?

18.  Were you satisfied with the ending?

19.  Did Gemmy change the town or its people? How?

20.  What importance does the title add?

21.  What role does language (or the absence of it) play? Compare with Gemmy’s sense that the words in which Abbot transcribes his story contain “the whole of what he was”.

22.  What did you think of Malouf’s style? He is first a poet; was that evident? Was his non-linear narrative effective or distracting? What does he accomplish by telling his story from shifting points of view and by withholding critical revelations?

23.  Did you have difficulty with the use of dialect? Did this add to or detract from the plot / theme / book as a whole?

24.  Is there a message about colonization? What of the allusions to “dispersals”? What of the longing for connection in a vast, empty land?

25.  Is there a political commentary in Remembering Babylon? a moral one?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!


Author Colm Tóibín interviews David Malouf
The New York Times review of Remembering Babylon
Spotlight as winner of Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
Video interview from Sydney Writers’ Festival
Discussion questions from Reading Group Guides
Australia’s Top 100 Favourite Homegrown Reads


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