Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
It has been ten years since Eva left South Africa when she returns to see
her dying father. She still holds a great deal of ill will toward her country
and her family. What do you think Eva is expecting to find upon her return? What
does she actually discover about her country and herself?
How do you think growing up on Skinner's Drift affected Eva physically,
mentally and emotionally? What links can you make between her behavior in the
present and the incidents of her past?
If you are familiar with South Africa's history, particularly regarding
race relations and the events of the 1980s that form the backdrop of Skinner's Drift, discuss how the novel foreshadows what is to come in South
Africa and reflects the way things used to be.
There are two three-person families in this novel: Martin, Lorraine and
Eva and Lefu, Nkele and Mpho. Discuss the parallels between the families. How
does each family's structure affect its individual members? How do the family
members support one another? How do they harm one another? What are some key
differences between the families?
At Eva's request Lefu helps her to bury the bodies of the animals that
Martin has killed. Was Eva right to ask Lefu to help her? Was Lefu right in
agreeing to help her, knowing that it might cost him his job?
How does the novel's structure -- sections jump back and forth in time and
are interspersed with Lorraine's journal entries -- strengthen the story? The
points of view of many characters are represented in the different sections. Why
do you think there is so little of Martin's point of view?
When Lorraine and Neels are on their nature walk she tells him the story
of how her farm came to be called Skinner's Drift. What is significant about
this story in relation to the rest of the novel? What does the story symbolize?
Does it underscore any prevalent themes in the novel?
When Lefu discovers the young boy's skeleton buried at the farm, Eva
threatens to tell Martin that Lefu stole Martin's horse. Why does Eva want to
protect her father? Is her desire to protect him still understandable ten years
Roses are a recurring motif in this novel. Discuss the significance of
roses in relation to various characters. Why does Lorraine give her rose garden
to Lefu? Why do the roses upset Nkele? Why does Lorraine insist on taking
Katinka to see the roses?
What do you think of Katinka? How does her role as an outsider in the
community give her a unique view of her neighbors and acquaintances? What does
she represent to the community? To the novel?
After meeting the stranger in the woods Nkele begins to worry about
Mpho's future and decides that "her only hope [is] the man in the donga." What
does she mean? After the stranger asks Nkele for a rose she stops visiting him
in the woods. Why does she end their relationship if he is her only hope? What
else might this stranger represent?
Martin's behavior is harmful to many people. He's an alcoholic, an
adulterer, and a killer, yet his family, friends and servants remain remarkably
loyal to him. What does their loyalty say about his society, his family and his
character? Discuss the theme of loyalty as it relates to other characters in the
novel, such as Eva and Lefu, Jannie and Katinka, and Lefu and Mpho.
Do you think that anyone in particular is responsible for Lorraine's
death? Her husband? Jannie and Dolf? Lorraine herself? Was her death simply an
accident or was it a preventable tragedy?
What do you think about Eva's attitude toward Mpho when she finds the
diary containing his promise to avenge the boy's death? How have the events of
Mpho's childhood transformed him?
Eva suddenly changes her plans at the end of the novel and decides to
prolong her stay in South Africa. Why has she decided to stay? Do you think that
she has forgiven her father? Has she forgiven her country? How is her
ambivalence about her parents linked to her ambivalence about her country?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.