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The Years of Rice and Salt
By Kim Stanley Robinson

Discussed April 2013

Buy The Years of Rice and Salt from Amazon.com

The jati:

Original names

Baram

Kenpo

Iwana

Sidpa

Zasep

Puntsok

Awake to Emptiness

Bold Bardash

Kyu

I-li

Shen

Zheng He

Psin

The Haj in the Heart

Bihari/
Bistami

Kokila/
Kya/
Katima

Insef/
Ibn Ezra

Shastri/
Said Darya

Zaneeta/
Zeya

Prithvi

Ocean Continents

Butterfly

Kheim

I-Chen

 

 

Peng

The Alchemist

Bahram

Khalid

Iwang

Sayyed Abdul Aziz Khan

Zahhar

Paxtakor

Warp and Weft

Busho

Keeper of the Wampum

Iagogeh

Straight Arrow

Zigzag

Pounds the Rock

Widow Kang

Bao Ssu

Kang Tongbi

Ibrahim ibn Hasam

Shih

Zunli

Pao

The Age of Great Progress

Bhakta

Kerala/
Kiyoaki

Ismail ibn Mani
al-Dir

Selim

 

Pyidaungsu

War of the Asuras

Bai

Kuo

Iwa

Shen

 

 

Nsara

Budur

Kirana Fawwaz

Idelba

Sururi

Zainab Shah

Piali

The First Years

Bao Xinhua

Kung Jianguo/
Kali

Zhu Isao (?)

Shi Fanfi

 

Pan Xichun

Questions

  1. Did you finish the book?
  2. Did you like the book? Why or why not?
  3. Which section(s) did you like most? Which section(s) did you like least? Were there any you would have left out entirely?
  4. Which of the three main characters—B, K, or I—did you find most sympathetic? Did it vary from section to section? How did you feel about the conceit of maintaining similar character names across reincarnations?
  5. Do you feel the characters ultimately grew and progressed across their reincarnations?
  6. How plausible did you find Robinson’s alternate history? Were there any developments you found particularly clever or unlikely? Are there other parts or eras of Robinson’s alternate world that you wish the book had spent time exploring?
  7. How did you feel about Robinson’s treatment of religion (Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, etc.)? Do you think he represented them fairly and accurately? How did you feel about the treatment of the Tibetan reincarnation system as the true metaphysical underpinning for the universe? Did you enjoy the sections set in the bardo?
  8. K in particular frequently lobbies aggressively for the rights of women (as Katima, Kang, and Kirana). How did you feel about the book’s treatment of feminism and its efforts to integrate it with a Muslim or Buddhism perspective?
  9. In “Nsara,” Budur and Kirana have a brief fling. How did you feel about this presentation of an LGBT relationship? How did you feel about the lack of LGBT material overall?
  10. In “The First Years,” Zhu Isao discusses whether “‘great men’ or ‘mass movements’ were the principal force for change [in history].” Do you feel The Years of Rice and Salt ultimately supports one or the other position? In “Nsara,” characters debate whether the “clash of civilizations” is inevitable. What side does Robinson seem to fall on? Are there any other general questions of history or historiography that the book seems to be addressing?
  11. If you also read Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream with the book club a couple years back, do you see any thematic similarities between the two books?
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