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About The Book

This is a story about a paradise lost. . . . About an African dream that began with a murder . . .

In 1978, in the final, bloodiest phase of the Rhodesian civil war, eleven-year-old Lauren St John moves with her family to Rainbow's End, a wild, beautiful farm and game reserve set on the banks of a slowflowing river. The house has been the scene of a horrific attack by guerrillas, and when Lauren's family settles there, a chain of events is set in motion that will change her life irrevocably.

Rainbow's End captures the overwhelming beauty and extraordinary danger of life in the African bush. Lauren's childhood reads like a girl's own adventure story. At the height of the war, Lauren rides through the wilderness on her horse, Morning Star, encountering lions, crocodiles, snakes, vicious ostriches, and mad cows. Many of the animals are pets, including Miss Piggy and Bacon and an elegant giraffe named Jenny. The constant threat of ruthless guerrillas prowling the land underscores everything, making each day more dangerous, vivid, and prized than the last.

After Independence, Lauren comes to the bitter realization that she'd been on the wrong side of the civil war. While she and her family believed that they were fighting for democracy over Communism, others saw the war as black against white. And when Robert Mugabe comes into power, he oversees the torture and persecution of thousands of members of an opposing tribe and goes on to become one of Africa's legendary dictators. The ending of this beautiful memoir is a fist to the stomach as Lauren realizes that she can be British or American, but she cannot be African. She can love it -- be willing to die for it -- but she cannot claim Africa because she is white.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
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:
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
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.

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Lauren St John was born in Gatooma, Rhodesia, now Kadoma, Zimbabwe, in December 1966. After studying journalism in Africa, she moved to London, where she was for many years golf correspondent to The Sunday Times. She is the author of several books on sports, the biography Hardcore Troubadour: The Life and Near Death of Steve Earle, and one children's novel, The White Giraffe.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (April 24, 2007)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416539704

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Raves and Reviews

"Rainbow's End is a lyrical, haunting story of family, love, and loss in a land as dangerous as it is beautiful." -- Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle

"Striding tall through Lauren St John's gorgeously written memoir is her father, and chapter after chapter their relationship is untangled and celebrated. Joy and a hunger for life infuse this book -- whether St John is writing about the harrowing years of Rhodesia's civil war, her childhood adventures in the bush, or the breaking apart of her family. Rainbow's End is a most generous and wise book." -- Lisa Fugard, author of Skinner's Drift

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