Looking for important quotes in this novel, let's select those that touch on an important theme of the story. To me, the novel's most salient theme is the importance and power of storytelling.
The following quotes appear most important to me.
She had always been this way: interested—quite unnecessarily, some would say—in the secrets of strangers. When flying, she always chose a window seat so that when the plane took off or landed, she could look down on the tiny houses and imagine the lives of the people who inhabited them. Now she made up the dialogue she could not understand.
Above, in chapter one, the narrator characterizes Uma as someone so eager for stories, so hungry for the act and meaning of storytelling, that her powerful imagination automatically interprets what she sees into stories, like a sleeping brain that can't help but spin stimuli into dreams.
Next, let's look at this quote from chapter three:
A reluctant pile of snacks formed on the counter, along with a few bottles of water. Uma, who did not have anything to contribute, felt improvident, like Aesop’s summer-singing cricket. (But she was suspicious, too. Had people squirreled things away at the bottoms of their purses, deep inside a coat pocket, in their shoes? In their place, she would have done it.) For a moment she heard her mother reading her that old story, her voice indignant as the ant sent the cricket off into the winter to die.
As we can see, Uma automatically connects her experiences to stories she has heard and shared with her family. Stories have influenced her thinking and her identity; she can't help but make constant connections to them as she interprets her own experiences.
This next quote is from chapter four:
Maybe she was right. Now that he thought of it, didn’t he love the thrill of manipulating numbers, of balancing on the razor-edge of the law?
Lance's musings appear just after he's revealed how he was named after Lancelot, the knight from the tales of King Arthur. He is embarrassed and reluctant about seeking adventure in real life, but now he acknowledges that his life has, in fact, unfolded like a story.
Next, in chapter five, Lily uses the power of stories to find the courage she needs:
I’m Gulliver, she told herself. This is a mountain in Lilliput. Making it into a fantasy helped a little. She turned her body cautiously and inched her legs across until they hung down. . . . She felt herself sliding down in a noisy rush of plaster. It’s a small mountain, she kept saying. It’s a small mountain. Then she hit the floor, the blessed, solid floor, with a thump, a fog of dust rising around her.
In chapter six, as Uma suggests that the survivors help each other stay calm by telling stories, she feels a flash of insight as she realizes the truth and universality of what she's saying:
“Everyone has a story,” said Uma, relieved that one of them was considering the idea. “I don’t believe anyone can go through life without encountering at least one amazing thing.” A shiver came over her as she said the last words, a blurry déjà vu. Where had she heard the phrase before?
Later, in chapter eight, Uma finds her own memories resonating as she processes the others' stories:
Everything was making her want to cry. No matter what her own problems were, Mr. Pritchett’s mother should have taken better care of her son. And why did the boy love her so, in spite of everything? Uma thought of her own mother, who had watched out for her with a hawk-eyed vigilance that she had ungraciously tolerated through childhood and rejected as a teenager. Did one always take for granted what came easily and...
(The entire section is 973 words.)