The Lim­its of the World

January 1, 2013

Amy Kauff­man was raised in a reform Jew­ish fam­i­ly in Wash­ing­ton DC, but her par­ents’ recent Ortho­dox con­ver­sion has cre­at­ed strain in their rela­tion­ship. After Amy mar­ries Sunil, the Ohio-born son of Indi­an immi­grants from Nairo­bi and a doc­tor­al can­di­date in moral phi­los­o­phy at Har­vard, the cou­ple with­holds the news of their mixed mar­riage from both their par­ents. When the rev­e­la­tion of a fam­i­ly secret on Sunil’s side com­pels this mar­i­tal news to emerge, the cou­ple trav­els togeth­er first to DC then to Nairo­bi to con­front their respec­tive fam­i­lies. While Sunil strug­gles to com­plete his dis­ser­ta­tion, he and Amy both wres­tle with fun­da­men­tal eth­i­cal ques­tions as they strive to fig­ure out how to make their mixed race, inter­faith mar­riage work.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Jen­nifer Acker

  1. The com­mu­ni­ty of mer­chant-class Indi­ans por­trayed in this nov­el have been called the Jews of Africa.” What do you think that means? How is their expe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to those of Jews in diaspora?

  2. The his­to­ry of Indi­ans in East Africa is recount­ed in this book, in part, by the grand­fa­ther through a series of tran­scribed audio record­ings in which he is talk­ing to his two grand­sons, Sunil and Bimal. What do you think the grand­fa­ther is try­ing to con­vey to his grand­chil­dren? Why is this act of record­ing his­to­ry impor­tant to him?

  3. There are four points of view in this book. Whose point of view did you enjoy being in the most, and why? Not nec­es­sar­i­ly in terms of lik­ing or not lik­ing the char­ac­ter, but in becom­ing deeply acquaint­ed with them in a plea­sur­ably inti­mate way.

  4. When Amy meets Sunil, her par­ents have under­gone a con­ver­sion to Ortho­dox Judaism that Amy finds con­fus­ing and dis­turb­ing. How does this event and Amy’s reac­tion to it shape her and Sunil’s relationship?

  5. How would you describe the friend­ship that devel­ops between Urmi­la and Mad­dy? Why is each impor­tant to the oth­er? What uni­ver­sal aspects of women’s expe­ri­ences stand out to you in this book?

  6. What is the most changed aspect of Amy and Sunil’s joint life when they return from Kenya?

  7. What is your expe­ri­ence of and take away from Urmi­la and Sunil’s final scene in DC toward the end of the book?

  8. The book opens with Urmi­la rear­rang­ing the wood­en ani­mals in her shop and ends with her watch­ing ani­mals dur­ing a safari. What is the impor­tance of ani­mals in this book?