Questions for Discussion
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1. Lauren St. John opens her memoir with the quote, "The barb in the arrow of childhood's suffering is this: its intense loneliness, its intense ignorance," from The Story of an African Farm
by Olive Schreiner. After reading about Lauren's childhood in Africa, how do you think this quote applies to her? Why do you think she wanted us as readers to keep this quote in mind when reading her story? Can the above quote apply to your own childhood?
2. Why do you think it is important that we know the history of Rainbow's End and its various residents, including the tragedy that befell the Forresters? In what way is Lauren's story about every family that has lived there? How have they created a shared history?
3. As a child, Lauren has very definite views of the blacks among whom she lives. She says that, "All terrorists are black, but not all black people are terrorists. (Pg 33)" On Page 27 she writes a list of other "Accepted Facts about Africans." Do you think that Lauren was racist in her childhood? Can an eight-year-old girl who is simply reciting what she has been taught be categorized as racist? At what age or level of understanding is it fair to hold someone accountable for their beliefs?
4. Discuss Lauren's relationship to animals. She is "crazy for horses" and just about any animal under the sun. How did her childhood obsession help build her relationship with her father? Do you think it also spurned her patriotism for Rhodesia?
5. Lauren speaks often of the war being a backdrop for her entire childhood. "When you grow up in a war, war defines you" (Pg 161). "To some extent, the continuance of normal life relied on the willing suspension of disbelief" (Pg 147). What about Lauren's childhood stood out to you as being affected by the war she was living through? In what ways is she able to forget that she is living in constant danger and enjoy a normal, happy childhood?
6. Discuss Lauren's relationship with her father Errol. Why do you think she says that he was always saving her and the rest of the family? Do you think that Lauren's desire to be a tomboy and to be a hero has anything to do with her seeking approval and recognition from her father? When does her view of him change?
7. Lauren has very strong, loving, patriotic feelings toward Rhodesia. She feels tied to the land, to the country and even to its flag. She does not abandon this love when the name of her country changes, when the political regime is overhauled, and when her beloved flag is replaced. Why? What makes up her childhood nationalism? Does her love for her country and her continent suffer when she realizes she has been supporting the wrong side? Or is she renewed in her feelings of allegiance to her land, regardless of superficialities like names and flags?
8. We often think of war as a clear fight between good and evil. How did reading about a war through a child's eyes, a child who whole-heartedly supported the war, allow you to see the gray areas of right and wrong? Lauren romanticizes war and aims to do so for the reader. Of her father's return from the Grey's scouts Lauren says, "he was back, blasting through the door in full camouflage, rifle in hand, and the smell of him -an unforgettable brew of horse sweat, man sweat, saddle leather, crushed pine needles and damp earth" (Pg 80). How did her romantic view of the war crumble once she understood more?
9. Why do you think Lauren's classmate Bruce's death had such a profound affect on her and her schoolmates? She marks this experience as the true beginning of the War for her, saying, "it wasn't a game at all" (Pg 103). How does Lauren react as the War begins inching closer and closer to home?
10. "Without realizing it, we all started to lead separate lives. Perhaps we always had," (Pg 151) says Lauren about her family. Even in wartime, how can a family's own inner conflicts become the greater tragedy? Why does domestic and personal unrest somehow affect her even more than the horrible realities of a bloody war?
11. Lauren says that she understood the black Africans to be "stronger than we were. More resilient, more courageous, more resistant to pain" (Pg 158). From what you've read in Rainbow's End
, would you agree? How did the Africans surrounding Lauren prove themselves to be stronger than the whites?
12. "How could the War have been sold to us in such a way as to make it not only desirable but a matter of pride..." (Pg 188). What about the War in Rhodesia and all its unclear motives and allegiances is reminiscent of the War our own country is engaged in today? Why does public, civilian opinion and understanding matter now, and why did it matter to Ian Smith?
13. Can a white person be African? If you are not black, can you ever really claim the African identity? Enhancing your Book Club:
1. Lauren's grandmother is able to track her ancestry back to A.D. 742! (Pg 94). Her relatives include heroes and villains of note. Create your family tree and try to find a relative with an interesting story that you'd like to share with your club.
2. Read an unbiased account of the Rhodesian Civil War on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesian_Civil_War
3. Lauren and her family have some very exotic pets, but Jenny the Giraffe has got to be the most unusual. Learn some quirky facts about giraffes at www.RandomGiraffeFacts.com
4. Lauren talks about the braais that she and her family attended throughout her childhood. Why not host a mini braai during your book club meeting? Have everyone bring a dish to share, and be sure to include some barbecued meats - a staple at any braai.