Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Why do you think Høeg chose to have a child narrate this story? In Peter’s perceptions and descriptions, how are the adults different from him and the rest of the children?
2. The title of the book is taken from this Indian proverb: “In case you wish to befriend an elephant keeper, make certain to have room for the elephant.” Discuss the meaning of the proverb and how it relates to the novel’s characters. Do you think the adults in the book are each elephant keepers in his or her own way?
3. In what ways does the novel blur the boundaries between the real and the imagined? What do you think Høeg is trying to say about the nature of reality—and our beliefs about it—through these distortions of reality and seemingly fantastical episodes and characters?
4. Høeg presents a narrative full of anecdotes and diversions. What sort of experience does this create for the reader? Are these really distractions from the plot, or do they build the larger framework of the narrative? If the latter, what does Høeg wish the reader to gain from them?
5. On Finø, many religions co-exist in peace together. Given that the population is capable of overcoming such obstacles as prejudice and religious intolerance, what keeps the island from being a perfect utopia?
6. Peter tells us, “with the island being so small, a lot of people need to be two or three things at once” (page 14). Which characters possess this multifaceted quality, literally and/or psychologically? How do these dynamics influence their standing in Finø?
7. Sex, religion, and freedom are all closely entwined throughout the novel. How are sex and religion blended or distinguished from one another to create freedom, false-freedom, or imprisonment for the characters?
8. Early in the novel, it is revealed that you can enter “the door” at moments of extreme happiness or despair and that love and “the door” are connected. In light of these facts, and the fates of the characters, think about what keeps a person from being free. Why is Tilte the one to find the door?
9. Describe what it means to be an elephant keeper. Can an elephant keeper walk through “the door”?