Discussion questions for Motherless Brooklyn




  1. How does Lethem depict Brooklyn? What are some of his descriptions of Brooklyn and what strategies does he use to convey “Brooklyn-ness”?
  2. Who is Lionel, in depth? What does he want out of life and who are his role models? If he didn’t have Tourette’s, who would he be?
  3. What are the language strategies in the book? What does Lionel’s relationship to language contribute to the story, to his character?  What do you make of Lionel’s variations on his own name?  How do the other main characters relate to Lionel’s Tourette’s?
  4. How is each of the “Minna men” described by Lionel early in the book—and how does each change?
  5. What role does Julia play, and how does she affect Lionel’s characterization?
  6. Beyond the obvious orphans, how does the title “Motherless Brooklyn” echo into the book?
  7. How does Lethem use the detective-novel genre? How does he use the “detective-noir” (dark humor) genre? How does Lionel eventually become a “real” detective?
  8. At one point, Lionel describes the homicide detective's habitual waving back as Tourettic; Lionel comments that "everyone's a little ticcish that way sometimes." How does Motherless Brooklyn imply that we are all Tourettic? In what ways are we all ticcish?
  9. How does Motherless Brooklyn address themes of consciousness (awareness, self-reflectivity) and the development of consciousness, the circular relationships between cause and effect that posit “self”?