Thought-provoking: characters and events that will leave you thinking after the story ends
Hot topic: immigration reform is near the top of the President’s political agenda
Controversial topic: immigration evokes fervent passion and opinion
Grounded in true events: learn more about historical and contemporary events in Mexico, Ethiopia, and China
Insight into legal system and U.S. immigration court: gain insight into an immigration court that hears roughly 300,000 cases every year
Spoiler Warning: These book club discussion questions reveal important details from the novel. Finish the book before reading on!
1. What did Five Grounds teach you about the histories and current events of Ethiopia, China, and Mexico? Did anything surprise you?
2. Do you fault Lin for lying at her asylum trial? Does the fact that her family could face serious repercussions if she doesn’t repay her debt change your opinion? Does the hardship she experienced on the boat make any difference?
3. Does Sofia’s desire to provide her children with a fresh start justify her identity theft? If not, are there ever any circumstances where Sofia’s actions may be morally justified?
4. After the immigration judge denies Sofia’s asylum claim, Eva tries to convince her mother to appeal the decision, but Sofia insists that it’s time for her to return to Mexico. Who do you agree with?
5. During Tesfaye’s trial, Ethan compares him to an SS guard, a characterization Martin strongly refutes. Do you hold Tesfaye accountable for his role in the Mengistu government?
6. Martin initially opposes any immigrants entering the country illegally. Does his experience with Tesfaye alter his position? If so, what drives these changes?
7. Hugo Sandoval is quite despondent when he learns that immigrants are responsible for stealing his wife’s identity. Do you think this revelation changes his core immigration beliefs?
8. Near the end of the novel, Ethan likens his career fighting illegal immigration to “weaving a rope out of sand.” Is this an accurate characterization of immigration enforcement in the United States? How do you think the government should fashion its immigration policy?
9. Do you think Fernando’s mother Maria is still alive? If so, what do you think happened to her?
10. Do you think Tesfaye can find peace in Italy? Will he ever reconcile with Geteye?
11. What did Five Grounds teach you about the asylum process in the United States? Did anything surprise you?
12. Do you think it’s fair that immigrants are only eligible for asylum if they fear harm on account of one of the five protected grounds (race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and social group)? If yes, then why? If no, then how would you change the current system? If you would choose to expand the protected grounds, are there any risks if a substantial percentage of the world’s population becomes eligible for asylum protection?
13.Tesfaye does not understand why the United States only protects individuals who face a “greater than 50%” chance of torture. Pretend you are an immigration judge and you believe there is a 30% chance that a foreign government would torture the immigrant standing trial. Would you deport that individual because the law says you are obligated to do so? Could you live with the fact that your actions might result in someone being tortured?