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Reading Group Guide The Night Buffalo by Guillermo Arriaga
Description: Acclaimed novelist and screenwriter of 21 Grams and Babel Guillermo Arriaga writes of love, friendship, passion, and betrayal in this haunting and remarkable novel. Set in Mexico City, The Night Buffalo is the story of Gregorio, a charismatic and mentally unstable young man, who is betrayed by his best friend Manuel and his girlfriend Tania when the two embark upon an affair. When Gregorio commits suicide, Manuel must face the truth about his own past as he struggles to make sense of the driving force behind Gregorio's madness. Meanwhile, Tania disappears for days at a time, Gregorio's sister leaves cryptic phone messages for Manuel at all hours of the night, and a mysterious stranger hell-bent on avenging Gregorio's death vows to stop at nothing to get what he wants. Arriaga's stark prose and deeply felt understanding of human nature make The Night Buffalo a harrowing, heartbreaking, and completely compelling read.
Reading Group Discussion:
Jacinto Anaya is a character Manuel knows little about, yet he has a significant influence on Manuel's well-being. What do you think Jacinto's history is? What makes him so focused on avenging Gregorio's death? And why do you think it is so important to him to meet with Manuel in person?
When Manuel finds a handwritten note from Tania to Gregorio he learns that, contrary to what he believed, the two never ended their relationship. Why did Tania stay involved with both men? Which man was Tania really in love with? Both? Neither? Jacinto describes Tania as "the string that held Gregorio," to which Manuel replies "that was the name of my string, too" (p. 221). What, other than romantic love, does Tania signify to both men?
Discuss the novel's attitude toward parent/child relationships. Manuel's father seems more sympathetic to his son's problems while Manuel frequently butts heads with his mother. Manuel refers to all his friends' parents as "the mother" and "the father." How does Manuel view his parents? In general, how are adults portrayed in the novel?
Arriaga employs a great deal of symbolism throughout the novel. Discuss some of his recurring symbols and motifs. Consider such things as earwigs, guns, the deaths of animals, handwritten notes, and tattoos. What is the effect of Arriaga's heavy use of symbolism?
Manuel cheats on Tania with several different women throughout the course of their relationship, yet when he learns of her recent involvement with Gregorio he is furious. Even though he says "I had no choice but to forget . . . I wouldn't reproach her at all" (p. 136), he explodes at her during their confrontation at the zoo. How does this double standard reflect Manuel's general attitude toward women? Consider Manuel's interactions with Rebecca, Laura, Margarita, and his mother. What is significant about the way women are portrayed in the novel? Is there a common trait these women share or do they all reflect a different side of Manuel?
Manuel says Tania "gave the impression of being a woman permanently trying to escape . . . Many confused this trait for betrayal, even me. But . . . Tania had a profound sense of loyalty" (pp. 56-57). How would you describe Tania? What do you think happens to her when she disappears at the end of the novel?
The characters who are closest with one another lie, cheat, and steal from each other; they often seem to live by their own moral code: Manuel takes an acquaintance's car on a joyride, demands money from the neighborhood teenagers, and dates several women at a time; Gregorio kills animals and threatens to kill a boy; Commander Ramirez breaks Manuel's finger for seemingly no reason at all. Does anyone in the novel live according to society's more traditional rules and expectations? Which relationships in the novel do you feel are the most genuine -- based solely on love or trust or respect? Which of the characters do you sympathize with?
Why does Mr. Camarina give Manuel his gun? How would you describe Manuel's relationship with Mr. Camarina?
Manuel's last message from Gregorio "consisted of an envelope with three earwigs in it and a white, bloodspattered card with the phrase: 'The night buffalo dreams of us.' I never found out who sent it" (p. 227). Who do you think sent this message to Manuel? The previous messages Manuel has received appear to have been sent by more than one person, although he believes Jacinto sent most of them. Who do you think sent the other messages? What reasons would the other various characters have for sending the messages?
Although the novel is narrated by Manuel, the novel's events are almost all set into motion by Gregorio. What techniques does Arriaga use to make Gregorio such a resonant character, despite the fact that we only read a few scenes of him in flashback and that he is dead throughout most of the novel?
Gregorio's first visit from the "night buffalo" is one of the early symptoms of his mental illness. "The night buffalo is going to dream of you," he tells Manuel, "[a]nd when the buffalo decides to attack, you'll wake up on the fields of death" (p. 44). At the very end of the novel Manuel is frequently dreaming about the night buffalo and concurs, "It's death, I know it" (p. 228). Why did Gregorio know that the buffalo would eventually haunt Manuel? What, other than death, does the buffalo symbolize?
At his meeting with Manuel near the end of the novel Jacinto points to his head and tells Manuel, "you've never gotten lost in here." Manuel replies, "Don't be so sure" (p. 222). Do you think Manuel is "lost"? Mentally ill? The sanest character in the novel? How has his mental state changed over the course of the novel? Discuss the novel's attitude toward mental illness.
Enhance Your Book Club:
Host a screening of one or all of Arriaga's films, which include Amores perros, 21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Babel. Discuss the thematic similarities between these films and The Night Buffalo. Does Arriaga employ any trademark techniques? Consider his use of flashback and non-sequential narrative. Do you notice any recurring motifs? Read Arriaga's bio here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guillermo_Arriaga.
Guillermo Arriaga es un escritor mexicano que ha alcanzado la fama mundial como guionista de la película Amores perros, de gran éxito internacional, y de las películas 21 Gramos, Las tres muertes de Melquiades Estrada, y Babel. Arriaga es también el autor de las novelas: El Búfalo de la noche y Escuadrón guillotina.