This reading group guide for Flesh and Bone and Water includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. We hope that these questions will enrich your reading group’s conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment in Rio. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother, Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belém, a city at the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rain forest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.
Three decades later, André is a successful doctor and a middle-aged father, living in London and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day, he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.
In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports us to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water
straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. On page 2, in the opening scene, André says, “The past has a certain scent, don’t you think? To me, it smells like Brazil.” In what ways are memories accessed through the senses in this novel? How does this inform the novel’s aesthetic?
2. We find André middle-aged and living alone in London at the beginning of the novel. How does this frame magnify the action set in Rio? How are the two spheres in dialogue?
3. Consider the ways in which André, Thiago, and Papai are shaped by grief. How does Mamãe’s death impact each character? What does the novel have to say about the mourning process?
4. On page 47, André notes, “I had struggled with the speedy grayness of London, the drab food and the language, slowly translating myself into someone who could belong.” How does this declaration capture the effect of geographic dislocation? Why is “translating” an apt word?
5. Sauma captures the full arc of André and Esther’s marriage, their romance and loss of love, in just a few pages. Do you think this compression was intentional? What effect does it have when juxtaposed with the story of André and Luana?
6. Why do you think the family escapes to Marajó after Mamãe’s death? Does the natural wonder of the Amazon serve as a motif? In what ways does this milieu reflect the distorted senses of a person in mourning?
7. Consider Papai’s abortion clinic. How does it reflect the capacity of secrets to both wound and heal? How does this theme play out in the novel?
8. Rita and Luana are both a part of the Cabral family and separate from it. In what scenes are invisible class boundaries trespassed?
9. What role does Thiago play in the novel? Does his character carry allegorical weight?
10. Did you see the novel’s dramatic twist coming? Did it feel earned? How did it fit thematically with the narrative?
11. In her email message to André, Luana writes on page 214, “I’m glad that you’re sorry, André, but I can’t forgive you.” What do you think Luana’s motives were for reaching out to André years later? What is André’s greatest sin? How did he wield his privilege in an unforgiveable way?
12. Were you satisfied with the novel’s ending? How is the empty Coke bottle an apt concluding image?Enhance Your Book Club
1. Pair Flesh and Bone and Water
with a Pedro Almodóvar movie, such as Volver
. How do Sauma and Almodóvar utilize the tropes of melodrama to offer commentary on sexual freedom?
2. Sauma was born in Rio but grew up in London. How do you think cultural duality shapes an artist?
3. Consider the works of Monica Ali, Kiran Desai, and Lisa See. What do the novels by these authors tell us about the immigrant experience? How does the past both haunt and inspire in these works?