Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Moses Expedition includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Juan Gómez-Jurado. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Crafting an adventure that brings readers from wartime Vienna to terrorist cells in New York and a lost valley in Jordan, Juan Gómez-Jurado has created an unstoppable thrill ride about a quest for power and the secrets of an ancient world in The Moses Expedition. The action begins when Father Anthony Fowler, a CIA operative and member of the Vatican’s secret service, uncovers the missing fragment of an ancient map within a stolen artifact—a candle covered in fine filigree gold—from the Nazi war criminal known as the Butcher of Spiegelgrund. From there, Fowler is soon involved in a treasure-hunting expedition to Jordan set up by a reclusive billionaire who has links to the highest levels of the Catholic Church. As the perils of the desert begin to consume the expedition team, a traitor from within patiently awaits his moment to strike.
Touching on current events and political figures, Juan Gómez-Jurado immerses readers in an incredibly realistic world, making the magic and legend of the elusive treasure—the Ark of the Covenant—seem all the more tangible and alluring. This electrifying adventure relentlessly grips readers until the last page is turned.
1. Reread the poem “How to Create an Enemy,” by Sam Keen, at the beginning of the book: “Start with an empty canvas . . . The thing you destroy will have become/ merely an enemy of God, an impediment/ to the sacred dialectic of history.” Why do you think Juan Gómez-Jurado chose this poem to open his novel?
2. Although his advanced age would have complicated the extradition process and trial, do you believe that the “Butcher of Spiegelgrund” should have had to answer for his crimes by due process of the law? Or was his sudden demise justified?
3. Orville Watson becomes involved with the Moses Expedition when he is hired to answer a deceptively simple question: “Who is Father Anthony Fowler?” What is your personal response to this question? Do you see Fowler as a hero? Are his actions justified?
4. The novel explores the clash of different identities, whether it be religious groups, race, or gender. It comes as no surprise that Orville Watson is able to amass power by masking his identity using the anonymity of the Internet to his advantage. How do you believe the Internet influences personal identity today?
5. Doctor Harel shares with Andrea Otero that “for Jews a name is very important. It defines a person and it has power over that person” (page 56), thus explaining Harel’s reluctance to reveal her name to strangers. Why do you think this is? What change prompts her to decide to ultimately reveal her name to Andrea toward the end of the novel?
6. The novel explores various father-son relationships: Raymond Kayn and Jacob Russell, Father Fowler and Father Albert, and Kharouf and Nazim. Compare and contrast the dynamics between these three bonds.
7. The Ark of the Covenant is described simply on page 87 as “the most powerful object in the history of mankind.” Power, though, is an abstract concept that can be interpreted differently. What do you think the power of the Ark means to Raymond Kayn? To Jacob Russell? To Father Fowler? To Andrea Otero?
8. Why do you believe it was so critical for Raymond Kayn to incorporate an outspoken member of the media, Andrea Otero, into the expedition? What are the benefits and drawbacks that Kayn must weigh as he makes this decision?
9. To escape a binding situation, Andrea Otero quotes from Schopenhauer: “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world” (page 114). How do you think this quote relates to the grander conflict between the Arabs and the Israelites in the novel? Do you believe that philosophical and religious questions and issues can be intertwined?
10. What was your personal reaction to the distanced and methodical way the Al-Qaeda Training Manual on page 202 described the technique of killing another human being? Do you believe the language in this manual to be sincere or a form of propaganda?
11. Unlike Kharouf, Nazim was born in the United States and indoctrinated at the age of fourteen. How does this affect the degree of interpretation and perception of Islamic teachings between the two men? What message do you think Juan Gómez-Jurado is conveying when Nazim’s downfall ultimately comes from a manifestation of American culture and materialism: the pair of fluorescent-striped Nikes?
12. Forcefully proclaiming that one does not “have monopoly on Allah’s message” (page 225), Orville Watson demonstrates the power of perception relating to religious teachings. How do various characters in the novel, particularly Father Fowler and Huqan, utilize different perspectives of religious doctrine to justify their ends?
13. On page 261, Professor Forrester reveals that the Ark is actually an electrical condenser. To what degree do you believe that science is able to explain certain supernatural events in religious texts? Can you provide specific examples? Do you believe the timely and climatic simoom to be an act of God or a scientifically justifiable natural occurrence?
14. Despite killing Huqan with one of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments inscribed with “Thou shall not kill,” Father Fowler was ultimately forgiven for his action. Why do you believe this is so?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The novel makes many references to actual political and historical figures. Discuss with your group which actual political, economic, journalistic, or religious figures Father Fowler, Andrea Otero, and Raymond Kayn most resemble.
2. By introducing the teachings of Schopenhauer, Juan Gómez-Jurado provides a philosophical perspective on the central religious issues in the novel. Research the figure of Schopenhauer. What were his philosophical standpoints? How do these relate to the teachings of Christianity and Islam?
3. On page 131, a list of ancient texts that inspired fruitful real-life expeditions, including Homer’s Iliad and the Ut papyrus, is presented. Research one or two of these texts and discuss the journeys they motivated.
4. The plight of the Jewish people plays an important role in the novel. Incorporating emotionally wrenching historical events such as the night of November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—into the narrative adds a richer dimension to Juan Gómez-Jurado’s storytelling. As a group, share war or survival stories that grandparents or parents may have passed down from around this time period.
A Conversation with Juan Gómez-Jurado
Q. Where did you encounter Sam Keen’s poem “How to Create an Enemy”? How did this poem serve as a point of inspiration for The Moses Expedition?
A. When I was doing my research for The Moses Expedition, I was very interested in finding out how certain groups criminalized others to obtain political or economic profit. There have been hundreds of examples of this throughout history. For example, the Holocaust. Faces of the Enemy, the amazing essay written by Sam Keen, greatly influenced my writing, and I wanted to honor that by opening my book with his poem.
Q. The Moses Expedition addresses many religious groups; did you have a specific audience in mind when writing this novel?
A. Sensitive human beings are my audience. As you may notice, there is no Manichaeism in The Moses Expedition, just people fighting for their perception of good. Andrea Otero, Raymond Kayn, Huqan, Nazim . . . all of them view themselves as heroes. Maybe the message of this novel is that truth lies within the ability to understand every perspective, something that Western societies—especially the United States—never do.
Q. How did you first decide on the Ark of the Covenant as the central focus for this novel?
A. That question is a natural follow-up to your previous one. There is only one character in The Moses Expedition who doesn’t think of himself as a hero or who acts for his own profit. That is Father Fowler, and obviously he is the hero of this story. His final decision, what he does in the last pages of the novel, is not an easy one.
That said, in an action and mystery thriller like this one, you can usually assume that obtaining a physical object is the goal of the adventure, but not in this case. There are intentionally only glimpses of the Ark in the last pages, and those glimpses come from the light of gunfire. I couldn’t have portrayed a more powerful symbol. Human beings often act stupidly, but there is no action more silly and senseless than killing for your own God.
That’s why the Ark is destroyed at the end, and only one line from the tablet survives: “Thou shall not kill.” That’s what God whispers in our hearts from every corner of Creation, but we are deaf to that.
Q. Could you describe the research process behind this novel?
A. Thousand of miles through the desert, hundreds of books, fifteen days living in Jordan with Bedouin tribes, and a supportive family!
Q. Your description of the plight of the Jewish people during World War II is arresting. What about this period particularly intrigued you?
A. The immense amount of suffering that the Jewish people endured under Nazism is so overwhelming that it can be hard to comprehend. Even a masterpiece as astounding as Schindler’s List can leave you feeling numb, simply because everything is so big. That’s why I decided to personalize this experience with Yudel and his family. His personal hell, reclusion, escape, and rebirth are symbolic and engrossing.
Q. How did you incorporate your own journalism experience with that of Andrea Otero?
A. Do you remember in the beginning of the novel, when Andrea is fired? I’ve been fired a lot for telling the truth. I left these jobs feeling lost, skeptical, and cynical. This is very common in journalism nowadays.
Q. The reclusive billionaire, the outspoken lesbian journalist—these personalities seem familiar in today’s media. Did you have any real-life inspiration behind the characters of Raymond Kayn and Andrea Otero?
A. I’m a lot like Andrea, that’s for sure. As for Raymond Kayn, I think that he is a mix of several real-life characters. My lawyer is telling me to stop writing.
Q. Do you have a favorite character in The Moses Expedition?
A. All of them are my children, but Orville and Andrea are really lovable. He is braver and mightier than he seems, and she, under that clumsy and cynical façade, is a tender and vulnerable young lady.
Q. Your novel God’s Spy sparked many controversial issues in Spain. Did you intend for The Moses Expedition to be a springboard for conversation about moral and ethical issues as well?
A. God’s Spy sparked controversy in Spain because there are a lot of problems with sexual abuse there. But my only intention is for my novels to entertain people. If I wanted to denounce things, I would become an essayist. I write thrillers with explosions and killings and a lot of fun in them. but—and this is a big one—I believe my readers are clever, so I include a lot of food for thought in my stories.
Q. Can you describe some of the difficulties of writing a follow-up to an internationally bestselling novel? Did you learn anything from your previous experience that made writing The Moses Expedition easier?
A. Actually, it was very difficult. I was nervous and scared to the bone. As a result, I tried harder, though, and that is why this is a much better novel. I think that all I learned from the first book was very helpful, but I didn’t realize it then because I was too worried about living up to expectations. Characterization, documentation, plotting, and setting were three times more difficult in The Moses Expedition. But I’m very proud of this book. In fact, the same minute I typed the last line of the novel, “And he was forgiven,” my cell phone rang. It was my wife telling me that she was on her way to the hospital to give birth to our second child! So for us, it was a double blessing and a sign that this book was going to be greater than my first.
Q. Who are some of the thriller writers who inspire you?
A. Almost every one of them is American: Steve Berry, Brad Thor, Douglas Preston, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Stephen King.
Q. Could you give us a glimpse into your next project?
A. If you enjoyed The Moses Expedition you’ll love my next novel (to be published by Atria Books in 2011). It is a stand-alone book about a young boy in Germany who wants to find out who killed his father. Although on the surface this novel is a thriller filled with Masonry, Nazis, and suspense, there is more to it. This book also shares a love story between a young German boy and a young Jewish American woman, a revenge that spans nineteen years, and a timely tale about the search for identity. All of this is set against the backdrop of the rise of Nazism, from 1919 to 1938.
This novel is based on a true story that occurred in 1941: A Spanish captain rescued four mysterious survivors from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean. They asked to be taken to Portugal, but before parting ways, one of them gave the captain a gold emblem that was recently discovered to be worth one million dollars.