How About Some Questions We Book Club
Members Can Answer Ourselves?

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Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. It takes Nelly a long time to start taking pictures, even after she has bought all of the equipment and agreed to photograph the Blessing of the Hunt. Why is she so hesitant? What gives her the impetus to finally begin?

2. Why do you think Nelly chose to move her boys to Maryland after Wesley’s death? Do you think she had different expectations from the life she ends up starting there?

3. What are some reasons the author might have chosen photojournalism as a focal point of the story? How is photojournalism different from other forms of photography? What about it appeals to Nelly? What about it scares her?

4. Why did Emma wait so long to tell Nelly about her relationship with Nelly’s father? Do you think she was right to withhold that information?

5. Discuss Willa’s relationship with Davis. What impact did it have on Emma? On Dac?

6. Nelly doesn’t get the professional reception she hoped for in New York. Were you surprised by this? How does this change the direction of her work?

7. Discuss Nelly’s relationship with her brothers. Why do you think they aren’t a more prominent part of the story? What influence have they had on her relationship with her father? How, if at all, do you think her feelings about family changed after the insinuation that Dac might have been her half brother?

8. Why do you think Nelly wants to follow in her father’s professional footsteps? What about him does she admire? What does she dislike? Do you think he supports her choices?

9. Compare Nelly’s relationship with Dac with what we know of her relationship with Wesley. In what ways do you think her marriage affected how she relates to Dac?

10. Emma went to great pains to ensure that Mai and Yvonne were no longer in Dac’s life, though she, too, was an outsider when she first married Davis. How do you think her experiences as a newlywed affected the way she dealt with Dac’s situation?

11. Emma is a morally complex character, at once extremely generous and extremely selfish. Discuss her work with the Hannah Clark Home. Ultimately, why do you think she founded it? Do you think it was right or wrong of her to do so?

12. All of the major characters—Nelly, Pat, Emma, and Dac—have lost spouses in complicated ways. Compare how each has grieved. Does Nelly’s grieving process change over the course of the book, and if so, in what way?

13. What do you imagine the future holds for Nelly and Dac? Why do you think the author chose to leave it unresolved?

14. Why does Pat ask Nelly to burn his photographs after his death? Do you think Nelly makes the right decision about whether or not to do so? What obligations does a photojournalist have regarding the privacy of an individual subject? What, in your opinion, takes precedence, individual privacy or the public’s right to know?

15. Discuss what the title The Language of Light means. In what ways does the author explore images of light throughout the
novel? Did this underlying motif enhance your understanding of the characters’ experiences?

16. At the beginning of the Reader’s Guide, the author has included an essay discussing some of the photographs that inspired
her. What photographs—either personal or professional— have you been inspired by? Have you ever encountered a photograph that has made you uncomfortable? Did you look up any of the photographs mentioned in this novel and, if so, do you feel the author was able to capture them in words?