The Glamour of Strangeness
by Jaime James


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Aloha and mahalo for visiting our site!
Any location - not page -- number refers to the Kindle edition.


As that this novel is nonfiction, no discussion questions exist that I could find. Therefore, below are talking points I used to guide our discussion.

1. James references Paul Bowles in "The Sheltering Sky" who distinguishes the exote from the tourist and traveler (loc 46), saying “the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years from one part of the earth to another.” And of the exote, he writes: “those who roam the world in search of the home they never had in the place that made them.”
      Given the full scope of James's novel, how have you come to perceive such individuals? Toward which entity do you most lean? Explain. And where in this progression does the expatriate fit in?

2. Victor Segalen, a Breton naval doctor and essayist, (“Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetics of Diversity” loc 237-238) says exotes are travelers who “recognize, beneath the cold and dry veneer of works and phrases, those unforgettable transports which arise from the kind of moments I have been speaking of: the moment of Exoticism.” For him, one such transporting moment happened “within site of Java", while James gives his own account of a transporting moment in Angkor (pg 248).
      Discuss any transporting moments of your own. Where were you? What happened? Did you feel a connection so strong that you’d move there? Is this why you’re here in Hawaii? Can we compare ourselves thusly? Or have we simply moved to a new land but continue to live within the comforts we brought with us without abandoning our own culture? Could we ever either in spirit or constitution given that Hawaii is part of the United States?

3. James provides a powerful argument for the exote as one who creates a new self in a new place and includes many persons of example, including Paul Gauguin, Raden Saleh and Walter Spies (the original focus of his book), Maya Deren, and Isabelle Eberhardt, to name a few. Which of the many persons most moved you and why?

4. Another argument James offers (loc 532) is that in the novel “The Moon and Sixpence” by W. Somerset Maugham theorizes, "I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they always have nostalgia for a home they know not…"
      Isn’t this a common struggle in a variety of circumstances besides travel? Take into consideration the implied argument of the exotes sexual orientation (entire section on Walter Spies, for example), cultural acceptance of cannibalism (571-579,4095) or initiation of daughters by their second fathers and others in the village (703) or even interest in adolescents of either sex or lovers of a different race (4772), voodoo-ism (Maya Deren section), culte des morts—using human corpses for magical purposes (4376)…the list goes on.

5. Discuss the atrocities of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) as presented of Charles Leclerc (beginning loc 4378). Or Joan Dayan’s recount of the “most macabre of these spectacles in ‘Haiti, History, and the Gods’.”

6. The title of James’s book comes from a T.E. Lawrence quote in "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" – (loc 3955) -- Pray God that men reading the story will not, for love the glamour of strangeness, go out to prostitute themselves and their talents in serving another race. A man who gives himself to be the possession of aliens leads a Yahoo life, having bartered his soul to a brute-master. He is not one of them…
      Lawrence is explaining that while he imitates the Arab, he quitted himself of his English self and looked “at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me.”
      To whom do you think “they” refers? And, putting psychoanalytic agenda (James' term) aside, can you better appreciate the struggle when Lawrence is granted leave of the military to “go away” he said that “at once I knew how much I was sorry”?

7. James relates his own life to that of an exote and deeply reflects his reasons for writing the book in such an explanatory fashion. Discuss how in the end, he lands with the thud of reality and/or disillusionment, using a number of locations to support it:
      Contemporary exotes in Bali bitterly regret the decline of tradition. (4824)
      Disillusioned expatriates tend to forget that their paradise is being paved with the active enthusiastic participation of the Balinese – as in his case. (4834)
      Curse of the exote: a passion is conceived for the place as the traveler imagined it to be when he discovered it, and it must never change. (3438)
      When the shock of the Diverse wears off, the glamour dissipates. (3906)

8. James mentions the Traveler’s Century Club that for membership, all you need is to have traveled to a hundred countries. He also mentions the Mile High Club. Can you think of any others related to travel? Name the one for crossing the equator. Is it Sons of Neptune? What is the one for crossing the International Date Line, the Prime Meridian, or Arctic Circles? There’s quite a list, most of which originated with the Navy. Have some fun naming them and their requirements.

9. Confess…how many of James’s curious words or adjectives did you look up? Here are a few of mine: chiaroscuro, verisimilitude, epistolary, panegyric, and splenetic. An aside…I loved learning the original definition of the French word “amateur” (2796) to mean “lover of”.

WMBC Questions compiled by:
Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Sept., 2016