Skip to main content

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Language of Good-Bye

1. The novel begins at the start of Annie's school year in September and progresses through the seasons. Why is the changing of the seasons significant? What do the different seasons and holidays mean for each of the characters?

2. Loss is one of the most important themes in the novel. What has each of the characters lost? How are their losses similar? How are they different? How do those losses affect the characters' actions throughout the novel?

3. At some point, Annie, Carter, Will, and Kayla each must cope with losing his or her lover, sometimes more than once. How did each of them deal with this heartache? Was one break-up more tragic than the others, or one character's suffering more acute?

4. Which is more difficult in the novel—a lost love or a lost homeland?

5. What does the novel say about the relationships between parents and children, and the role that children play in their parents' lives?

6. What is the significance of physical exercise in the novel? Think of Kayla's running or Will's cycling.

7. In The Language of Good-bye, learning a new language often acts as a metaphor for learning other new things about love and life. What does each of the characters learn? How are their lessons similar to or different from what Annie's students learn in her ESL class?

8. Sungae's paintings are titled according to Annie's lesson plans. How does art function as a language in the novel? Can paintings and words express the same feeling?

9. During Sungae's art show, Fischer writes on page 300, ". . .stories travel a straight line only when complete. [Sungae's] story never would be. And yet, for all of this, it was somehow finished. . . . She understood now for the first time how it was possible for a story to end without being over. Maybe the most important stories never are. And maybe it's only in the beginning when everything is still possible that any story is ever truly complete." By the end of The Language of Good-bye, is the story complete or finished? Or is it both complete and finished?

10. In the novel, is duty stronger than love?

The Language of Good-Bye
by Maribeth Fischer

  • Publication Date: March 26, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume
  • ISBN-10: 0452283094
  • ISBN-13: 9780452283091