The Foreigners Teacher’s Guide

By Maxine Swann

The Foreigners by Maxine Swann


Questions and Topics for Discussion


A glittering, energetic novel set in the eccentric and decadent city of Buenos Aires, where three women discover their own kinds of awakenings.

Buenos Aires is a city of Parisian affectations and national anxiety, of amorous young lovers, seedy ports, flooded slums, and a dazzling social elite. And in this heady maze of contradiction and possibility are three women: Daisy, an American divorcée; Isolde, a beautiful, lonely Austrian; and Leonarda, a chameleonic Argentine with radical dreams of rebellion.

Against the throbbing backdrop of this shimmering city—a character in itself—Maxine Swann has created a stunning narrative of reawakened sensuality and compulsive desire that simultaneously explores with remarkable acuity themes of foreignness, displacement, and the trembling metamorphoses that arise from such states.

“Swann.vividly evokes the city and its lively, diverse, and conflicted social landscape, from the denizens of posh hotels to the unfortunate poor living in the city’s slums..Seductively hard to put down.” —The Boston Globe

“The city of Buenos Aires dazzles in this novel.” —O, The Oprah Magazine

“Atmospheric, evocative literary fiction that ruminates on what it means and how it feels to be foreign.” —Booklist

“Beautifully written, sensual, and seductive.” —Kirkus



Maxine Swann, the author of Serious Girls and Flower Children, won the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Ploughshares’ Cohen Award for Best Fiction of the Year, an O. Henry Prize, and a Pushcart Prize, and her work has been included in The Best American Short Stories of 1998 and 2006. She lives in Buenos Aires.


  • The city itself is a major character in the novel. Swann’s Buenos Aires is a bustling and sensual city of almost hallucinatory proportions. How does the author recreate this special city for the reader—what sights, sounds, and elements compete for your attention? Think about a city that is particularly special to you. What language would you use to describe it?

  • Think about who is a foreigner in the book. What makes someone “foreign”? What possibilities does being foreign allow? What does it prevent?

  • How would you describe the social order in Buenos Aires? What gives someone status, and who has it? Why, for a woman like Isolde, is it worth chasing? Are the rules different for men versus women?

  • Discuss Gabriel’s role in Daisy’s acclimation to life in Buenos Aires. How is he a problem solver, or rescuer? Compare his behavior to that of Leonarda’s at the start.

  • What do you think lies behind Leonarda’s mercurial behavior—in her life choices, relationships, and plans for her future? Is it fair to say she’s thrilled by the hunt? What are the consequences of her more insensitive—or even destructive—behavior?

  • Would you consider Isolde a tragic figure? Why or why not? How do her desires and emphasis on class and status get in the way of her growth? Do these illusions extend to her love life and potential suitors? Does she change her ways by the novel’s end?

  • What drives Leonarda to infiltrate Miguel’s inner circle, and to manipulate him, getting “inside his head”? Do you think she succeeds, or is this ultimately just another illusion she’s cast? How does she use him—and how is she used?

  • Even as her work stagnates, apartment physically crumbles, and relationships fray in a painful way, Daisy continues to root herself in Buenos Aires. Why? What is it about the city or life that speaks to her? What is she still hoping to find?

  • Where do you see Isolde, Leonarda, and Daisy in ten years? Do you think much about their lives and drives will have changed?

  • Do you think Daisy is transformed from foreigner status into an Argentine by the end of the novel?
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