Authors: Hari Kunzru
This day I lost my compass needle in ground riddled by cracks and fissures. I searched for several hours, digging out the cracks with my hands, but was unable to find it. My Enemy laughed at me, bidding me find my way by God’s holy light.
I climbed the San Ignacio range and looked down on an immense white plain, unbroken except for a butte whose three-spired shape I considered auspicious as a representation of the Trinity. There was no sign of water or herbage but I trusted in God and set forth toward this sign of His grace. From this high place I could see that beyond the plain was another range, and no doubt beyond that another, and my heart was filled with fear, for my hunger and thirst were such that the sound of the wind was like a running brook in my ears and the round white stones in my path had the appearance of loaves of bread.
I halted at the rocks of the Trinity. My Adversary bade me climb them and fling myself from the peak, commanding God’s angels to break my fall, but I trusted in Him to give me strength to walk forward on my two feet, though I cannot sail over the earth like the heathen runners or fly through the air like my hypocritical Adversary, who cloaks himself in sunlight like the white raiment of the just. Whatever has come from God has life only when it gazes back toward Him and this I did, looking away from the Adversary’s lying light, seeking the true light of God. My trust in Him is absolute, though I am sore beset.
As I rested in the shade of the rocks, it seemed to me that the sky was rent asunder and a dart of longing went out from my heart, piercing the veil that surrounded God, whose love boiled over and spilled down
upon me as an angel in the form of a man with the head of a lion. And he spoke to me, saying that I was beloved and revealing certain mysteries concerning life and death, which as soon as they had been revealed receded into forgetfulness, for that which is infinite is known only to itself and cannot be contained in the mind of man. I received all this in silence and stillness and then the creature retreated into the sky and I was once again alone in this desert place.
Here ends the redacted passage
This book was written in New York; Marfa, Texas; Sussex; Shelter Island; Spetses; Venice, California; and various hotel and motel rooms in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.
I would like to thank everyone who traveled with me, fed me, gave their hospitality and shared their ideas. I am particularly grateful to Carole and Richard Baron; Brooke Geahan; Jonny Geller; Ehab Khalaf; Katie Kitamura; Leonard Knight; Hardeep Singh Kohli; my parents, Ravi and Hilary Kunzru; Carobeth Laird; Allan Moyle and Chiyoko Tanaka; Geraldine Ogilvy; Meghan O’Rourke; Simon Prosser; Lauren Redniss; Bic Runga; James Surowiecki; George Van Tassel; Lucy Walker; Darryl Ward and Katherine Zoepf.
This book would not have existed without the support of the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and the friendship of my colleagues there during the 2008–2009 term. My thanks go to Jean Strouse and the staff of the library.
Fray Francisco Garcés existed. He did travel through Sonora, Arizona, and California in 1775–1776 and wrote about what he found. However, no part of that book (to my knowledge) was lost or suppressed as heretical.
Gods Without Men
by Hari Kunzru
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of
Gods Without Men
, Hari Kunzru’s viscerally gripping and intellectually engaging novel about the human impulse to search for meaning in a chaotic universe.
A kaleidoscopic novel that shifts between a modern-day couple’s struggle to come to terms with their son’s inexplicable disappearance in the Mojave Desert and the epiphanies of the restless spirits who ventured there before them,
Gods Without Men
delivers an acute portrait of contemporary American life as it illuminates the timeless human desire to comprehend life’s mysteries.
Jaz and Lisa Matharu come to the desert with their autistic four-year-old son, Raj, hoping that time away from their stressful lives in New York City will heal their troubled marriage. But Jaz disappears during a sightseeing visit to an ancient rock formation known as the Pinnacles, where strange energies and extraordinary phenomena were witnessed in the past by Native Americans, religious zealots, and an extraterrestrial-worshipping cult. As Jaz and Lisa engage in a surreal and chaotic search for their missing son in which law enforcement authorities, the media, and the public vilify them, only they can determine if their extraordinary odyssey will end in madness or a joyful reunion.
Gods Without Men
brings us into the consciousness of nine fictional characters, among them a hedge fund executive; a UFO cult leader; a dissolute British rock star; a homesick Iraqi teenage girl; one historical character, the eighteenth-century Spanish missionary Fray Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés; and one deity, Coyote, the trickster in many Native American traditional stories. Why does Hari Kunzru embrace such a wide and diverse cast of characters?
2. Do these characters from different historical eras and different echelons of society share any of the same aspirations? What draws them to the Pinnacle Rocks?
3. Which character or characters do you most identify with? Why?
4. Why do you think Kunzru set this novel in the desert? Could he have told the same story in a different landscape?
5. After reading
Gods Without Men
do you agree with Honoré de Balzac’s description of the desert: “In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing … It is God without men,” one of the epigraphs of this novel? Has your conception of the desert changed? Do you think “wasteland” is an appropriate synonym for “desert”?
6. Dawn joins the Ashtar Galactic Command in 1970 when she is a teenager because she wants “to be part of something bigger than herself” (
). Does she achieve that goal? Thirty-eight years later, teenage Laila draws comfort from the Ashtar record she buys at a thrift shop. Why?
7. Several characters in the novel possess arcane knowledge of mathematics, alchemy, aerodynamics, electrical engineering, or entertainment marketing that enables them to manipulate the material world in their favor, yet they don’t seem satisfied with their achievements. What are the sources and consequences of their dissatisfaction?
8. The character Coyote appears intermittently throughout the novel as an animal, a man, and a deity. What do his appearances herald? Are other characters comparably skilled at transforming themselves?
9. Kunzru references three international conflicts in this novel—World War I, World War II, and the second Iraq War. What do the characters Deighton, Schmidt, and Laila, who had firsthand experiences of those wars, have in common?
10. Lisa views Raj’s disappearance as her punishment for her wild night in town. Dawn thinks she was responsible because by taking Lisa to Judy’s place “she’d got her family involved. They were mixed up with Coyote, mixed up in the paths and flows” (
). Do you believe that either character is responsible for Raj’s disappearance?
11. Does the little glowing boy Laila finds in the desert at night (
) bear any relation to the “glow boy” (
) Joanie’s daughter, Judy, was seen playing with before she disappeared in 1958?
12. Why do you think Lisa is able to gratefully accept her son’s seemingly miraculous return and his recovery from autism, whereas Jaz cannot bear not knowing what happened to his son and is frightened by Raj’s changed behavior, believing the boy who was returned to them is not Raj; “It’s as if—as if something is wearing his skin” (
13. Toward the end of the novel, Lisa believes she has learned a lesson: “true knowledge is the knowledge of limits, the understanding that at the heart of the world … is a mystery into which we are not meant to penetrate…. Now she could call it God … confident that though the world was unknowable, it had a meaning, and that meaning would keep her safe and set her free” (
). Does Jaz experience his own
epiphany at the end of the novel when he stands holding hands with Lisa and Raj looking out over the desert?
14. Why does the novel begin and end with an explosion? At the end of the novel, do you gain a clearer understanding of what Coyote was up to in the first chapter?
15. Do you think Kunzru’s postmodernist storytelling technique of presenting the reader with pieces of a puzzle without providing explicit explanations of how the pieces fit together is appropriate for a novel that explores the search for pattern and meaning? Would the story be more or less realistic if he had limited himself to traditional forms of storytelling?
by David Mitchell;
A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan;
by Don DeLillo;
A Passion in the Desert
by Honoré de Balzac;
by Barry Lopez
Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels
and the recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Betty Trask Prize of the Society of Authors and a British Book Award. In 2003,
named him one of its twenty best young British novelists. He is deputy president of English PEN, a patron of the Refugee Council and a member of the editorial board of
magazine. His work has been translated into twenty-one languages and his short stories and journalism have appeared in diverse publications, including
The New York Times
The New Yorker
The London Review of Books
The New Statesman