Reading guide for Snakewoman of Little Egypt by Robert Hellenga

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Snakewoman of Little Egypt

A Novel

By Robert Hellenga

Snakewoman of Little Egypt
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2010,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2011,
    352 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Snakewoman of Little Egypt takes place in 1999 and 2000, a recent past that readers should remember well. What period details from the turn of the millennium come to life in the novel? Why do you think Robert Hellenga set his novel at this time instead of the present day?


  2. As soon as she steps out of prison, Sunny declares, "I used to be Willa Fern. Now I'm Sunny." (35) What does this new name mean to Sunny? How does her outlook on life change in this moment?


  3. Consider how Sunny and Jackson tell their own stories. How do the chapters in Sunny's voice differ from the chapters told from Jackson's point of view?


  4. Discuss what snakes mean to each character in the novel. Why do Earl, DX, and the followers of their church handle snakes? Why are Cramer and Sunny studying them? Why is Jackson drawn to DX's two-headed snake? What personal, spiritual, and professional possibilities do snakes hold for each of these characters?


  5. As Sunny decides to live in Jackson's home, she tells him, "I don't need anyone to look after me. But maybe you need someone to look after you." (63) Throughout Sunny and Jackson's relationship, who seems to look after whom? When does the balance of power shift between them and why?


  6. How does Claire, Jackson's ex-girlfriend and occasional lover, change over the course of the novel? Does Claire seem like a trustworthy character when we first meet her? What about at the end of the novel, during and after Sunny's trial? How does she eventually earn Sunny's trust and sisterly love?


  7. At the end of her first semester at Thomas Ford University, Sunny says, "I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of well-being, a sense that the answers to life's big questions had fallen into my lap." (188) What important answers does Sunny learn from each of her classes - French 101, Great Books, English 207, and Biology 120? What big questions still remain unanswered for Sunny?


  8. Discuss Earl's leadership as the pastor of the Church of the Burning Bush with Signs Following. What are Earl's values? What mistakes does he make when he is "backed up on the Lord," and how does he repent? Is he a villain in Snakewoman of Little Egypt? Why or why not?


  9. "For Jackson the Church of the Burning Bush with Signs Following provided a professional opportunity too good to be passed up." (140) Why is Jackson uniquely qualified for this assignment of "salvage anthropology?" (123) What does Jackson seek in Naqada, and what does he end up finding? Does his research take him closer to the spirituality of the church or further away?


  10. Twice Sunny stands trial for shooting Earl. How are the circumstances of each shooting similar, and how are they different? At her second trial, Sunny realizes, "And the funny thing was, I knew in my heart of hearts that in some ways the prosecutor was closer to the truth than Stella, and he, the prosecutor, didn't even know the half of it." (322) What version of Sunny does the prosecutor present to the jury? Why does the jury end up siding with Sunny, even if the prosecutor is closer to the truth of her crimes?


  11. During her trial, Sunny realizes, "And in fact in my own inner courtroom I was on trial for going to Mexico with another man." (314) Why does Sunny choose Mexico over Paris? How does she atone for her decision?


  12. Jackson often speaks of looking along a beam of light instead of looking at it. (168) What vision does he seek when he looks along a beam of light? What are the rewards and dangers of this point of view?


  13. Warren, Sunny's uncle, dies before the novel begins, but he has a strong effect on Sunny and Jackson's lives. What kind of man was Warren, according to Jackson and Sunny's memories of him? How does Warren manage to help his niece, even after his death?


  14. In the end, why does Jackson return to Africa? Does it seem likely that he finds what he's looking for, even if Sunny never learns of his whereabouts? Why or why not?


  15. Claire's novel, Kiss of Death, ends with an engagement in France, while Snakewoman of Little Egypt ends with a breakup and a fresh start. Which ending is more satisfying? Which ending captures the "joie de vivre" that Sunny has been seeking since she left prison? (340)


  16. Robert Hellenga writes that the "two stories... are intertwined (like two snakes) in Snakewoman of Little Egypt." (341) How does the author weave the strands of the novel together? What do the communities of Little Egypt and the Ituri Forest have in common, and how are they different? How does Sunny and Jackson's love story unite these two worlds, and why does it ultimately drive them apart?
    1. Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Bloomsbury USA. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Religious Snake Handling

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...
  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  103Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson
  2.  19The Arsonist:
    Sue Miller

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.