1. About the Author
2. About the Novel
3. Questions for Discussion
About the Author:
Peter Høeg, a native Dane, was a professional dancer and actor as well
as a sailor, fencer, and mountaineer before becoming a writer. He lives in
Copenhagen with his wife and two young daughters, where he is virtually out of
touch with the modern world: he has no fax, computer, or TV, not even a phone
or a car. He gives very few media interviews, and has no idea how much money
his books have made him or how many copies are in print.
Høeg's first book, Perceptions of the Twentieth Century, became
an overnight bestseller in Denmark, where he is considered something of a
national hero. The Danish government awarded him a lifetime grant, and he is
very likely the most beloved and respected Danish writer since Isak Dinesen.
His first book translated into English was Smilla's Sense of Snow, which
became a phenomenal bestseller in hardcover and paperback, received
overwhelming critical acclaim, and was made into a movie directed by Bille August, a Dane who directed Best Intentions and
House of the Spirits. Borderliners is Høeg's second novel
translated into English.
About the Novel:
"What is time?" begins Borderliners, the story of Peter, a student at
Biehl's Academy in the 1970s. A troubled youth who grew up in institutions,
acceptance in Biehl's is Peter's last chance to join "normal" society.
Immediately, Peter is drawn to the school's outsiders: Katarina, recently
orphaned, with whom he has fallen in love; and August, a psychotic boy who
murdered his parents after years of abuse. The three begin to realize that
they and the other students at Biehl's are part of a bizarre, brutal experiment
that alters their sense of time and will tragically change their lives
"The Catcher in the Rye meets A Brief History of Time in Peter
Hoeg's Borderliners. Høeg makes it all brilliantly tormenting
and philosophically haunting."
"An intriguing mystery tale... H[[macron]]eg's second novel delivers a powerful
Questions for Discussion:
1. In Chapter One, Biehl says, "When I speak, you should listen, first and
foremost, to my pauses. They speak louder than my words." Discuss the role of
silence in this book. How is silence used to invoke fear? How do the students
2. The children in Borderliners, Peter, Katarina, August--have lost
their parents, or been abused and abandoned by them. How does this affect
their attitudes toward authority figures, such as Biehl and Karin Aero? Are
all adults portrayed as abusive? Why do you think in the end Peter decides he
wants to be adopted?
3. Since the children have no parent figures, they must form attachments among
themselves. Describe the nature of the friendships between Peter, Katarina,
and August. What do they have in common? How do they communicate?
4. The two ravens on Biehl's wooden chest stand for Surveillance and Control.
The school attempts to control the students with timetables, schedules, charts,
and bells, and keeps them under constant surveillance this way. What kind of
freedom can exist under surveillance? Discuss what the students do in order to
be free, physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Is knowledge freedom?
5. Biehl and other authority figures use corporal punishment in class to
maintain order. What does this book say about the effectiveness of physical
punishment, by teachers and by parents? How do the children react? Discuss
whether control and power can ever be maintained this way.
6. The clock in Borderliners is a metaphor for the accuracy, or
inaccuracy, of the universe. Discuss how the measurement of time is both
precise and inarguable, like mathematics and science, and also creative and
malleable, like a work of art. Does Peter see time as science, art or both?
7. Peter says you can set yourself free by helping others. Describe how he
feels responsible for August and tries to help him. How does this compare to
how Humlum tried to help Peter?
8. One of the themes in Borderliners is how we remember. Katarina says
people remember their lives as a time line of events, except for when they are
young, and then the past has no chronological order. Compare this to how
August remembers his past and his parents. Discuss how Borderliners as
a whole is the expression of Peter's memory. Does he remember chronologically.
Does he choose to repress certain memories?
9. In the author's previous novel Smilla's Sense of Snow, snow and ice
are central images. To what effect does the author use the cold, snowy Danish
landscape in this novel? Discuss how environment can reflect the inner lives
of characters. What other images does the author use throughout
10. Peter notes the difference between linear time and circular time. Discuss
how the author incorporates both of these concepts into the narrative structure
of Borderliners. Do you think the narrative is linear or circular? How
does the author use Peter's memory to disrupt the narrative flow? Is this an
11. Biehl has his own vision of the ideal school system, a place where
marginal students--borderliners--coexist with students of higher ability.
Discuss the implications of Biehl's plan. Is such a plan possible? How do his
good intentions turn into tragedy?
12. Despite the fact that Borderliners is a novel of intellectual depth
and discussion, it still contains a great deal of suspense. Discuss how the
author maintains suspense throughout. What elements of mystery does he use to
propel the plot? How does he continue this suspense after the climactic scene
with August and Biehl?
13. In Borderliners, Peter notes that the German biologist Jakob von
Uexkull says man is fundamentally alone. Describe how the author uses language
and setting to achieve a sense of isolation in this novel. Also discuss
whether Peter himself is truly alone. How does he build up barriers against
people? How does he try to achieve intimacy? Is there a feeling of hope for
him at the end of the novel?