Discussion Guide

Use these questions as a starting place for discussing The Weight of All Things with others who are reading this year's Core Book.

Nicolás' Story

The nine-year-old protagonist carries a tremendous burden throughout the novel.

  • How does Benítez’s choice to tell this story in the form of a novel (rather than a history or a documentary or an essay) affect what we receive from it?
  • What difference does it make that the story’s main point of view is that of a 9 year old boy?
  • How does the opening event of the novel—an event the “Historical Note” emphasizes is an actual occurrence—affect how readers approach the novel?

Nicolás' Faith

Nicolás prays regularly and attempts to mimic his mother’s Catholic faith and devotion.

  • Why might Benítez have made the choice for Nicolás to have his chief consolation come through encounters with the ultimate Catholic symbol of maternal love, the Virgin Mary?
  • What are some of the differences in his Salvadoran and Catholic expressions of belief and your own faith and devotional practices? What are some similarities?

Absurdity of War

A repeated theme throughout the novel is the cruelty and meaningless of the war’s impact on Nicolás, his family, his ranch, and his community.

  • What are some examples throughout the novel of absurd consequences of the political conflict?
  • Who is assigned agency for the violence waged against the Salvadorans?

The Land

An important element to Benítez’ storytelling is the role of the land and the environment.

  • How might the river or the landscape be ascribed the role of a character or agent in the novel?
  • How do we see humans interacting with the landscape?
  • How is the land, the environment marked or changed by the civil war?

Facing Loss and Suffering

The Weight of All Things does not minimize the pain or damage that individuals bear due to social and political violence.

  • What are some of the ways that Nicolás copes with his trauma and loss?
  • How do we see Nicolás fighting for survival amidst threatening circumstances?

Carrying The Weight of All Things

Consider the title of the novel and select memorable passages in the text that it recalls.  After reading the whole, consider the question implicit in the title: “Who bears the weight of all things?”

What are some things you have learned or carry with you now that you have entered into the suffering of ordinary Salvadoran people in this conflict? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?