Reading guide for The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

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The Pirate's Daughter

by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

The Pirate's Daughter
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 432 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

About the Book Novelist Margaret Cezair-Thompson has found fertile material in Errol Flynn’s real-life passion for the Caribbean. In his later years he lived and played in Jamaica, and that is the springboard for a daring what-if tale about how the accidents and incidents of history and popular culture shape the lives of two women.

When Errol Flynn’s misdirected boat washes up on the shore of Jamaica in 1946, in The Pirate’s Daughter, it is like a message in a bottle tossed randomly from one world to another. And the fading film star deciphers a fresh paradise where he can practice his aging rakishness. While Eli Joseph, the area’s justice of the peace, reads friendship in the foreign man’s attentions, his teenage daughter Ida reads more. The past-tense matinee idol and the just-past-puberty girl produce a daughter, May, who comes to embody the recklessness and ambiguity of her parents’ brief affair.

As decades pass, two powerful forces menace and enhance by the lives of Ida and May—their connections to Flynn and Jamaica. The island is the book’s most beautiful character. Cezair-Thompson’s portrayal of the West Indies relays its tropical sweetness with images of lush green hills and deep blue harbors. The homey, accented chatter of its native people orient the reader to the sounds of a different world.

Yet the deep sense of community and the deep divisions in Jamaica’s cultural caldron act as two opposing magnets. Ida, in her youth, and May, in hers, are drawn away and drawn back again to the island. Dangerous unrest wells up as May stumbles over the threshold of adulthood. It is not the first time that the women have been visited by physical peril. But in their world danger is part of the adventure of living. So is love.

Cezair-Thompson‘s generously nuanced book embraces matters personal, political, and historical in the destinies of earthy but smartly complex characters. And for readers taking in The Pirate’s Daughter will be like living an extra life.

About the Author

At 19, Margaret Cezair-Thompson first hit American shores to hit the books. And after she received a B.A. in English at Barnard, she gained a Ph.D. at City of New York University Graduate Center. By then her sights had broadened beyond academics to encompass friendships and literary ambitions. “I'd made good friends and acquaintances in New York City,” she says. “I wanted to practice my craft as a writer and to write, that was foremost in my mind, and staying seemed the best choice.” So she traded one coast for another. Instead of returning to her beautiful island home of Jamaica, she adopted the United States. And other reasons pressed her: “At the time things had become politically distressing in Jamaica. There was a great deal of violence in the late 70's and early 80's, some of which had directly affected me and my family.”

Her critically acclaimed debut novel The True History of Paradise, published in 1999, focused on a heroine desperately fleeing the West Indies. That same year her son Ben was born. And currently, she is an associate professor of English at Wellesley College, where she has taught since 1990.

Her roots have been replanted in the US, yet her work continues to reside in Jamaica. Her latest book The Pirate’s Daughter looks at that nation through the lens of an affair between an aging film star and a head-strong island girl. It gives readers yet another excellent product of the author’s permanent spiritual connection to her idyllic and deadly homeland.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is this the story of a pirate’s daughter? Why or why not? Is there more than one pirate in the novel?

  2. How does Cezair-Thompson use the concept of pirates to tell the larger political story of Jamaica’s path to independence? What does this book say about Colonialism?

  3. Is this a novel about race? Is it a novel about class?

  4. Passions run deep in this novel, both love and hate. Do you consider this a love story? Is it a love story between couples, or a love song for Jamaica, or both? What various kinds of love fuel the plot? What kinds of hatred drive the narrative?

  5. Strong mothers abound in this book, even the mothers we read about only in passing who leave Jamaica for New York to earn a living for their children. Do you think Ida is a good mother? Do you think that is a fair question, given the challenges she faced? How important are fathers, and father figures?

  6. Maps play a significant role in this novel. The greatest mysteries, though, are finding ways to understand hearts and histories. What guides May in her journey toward self-discovery? How does Nigel find peace?

  7. How does the story of Errol Flynn and Hollywood add to the novel?

  8. How do the interplay of fact and fiction enliven the story?

  9. Place is critical in this novel. How does Cezair-Thompson use different settings to advance her tale?

  10. What notions of beauty shape this story?

  11. Much of the novel is about seduction, but not always the literal kind. What seduces different characters, and why?

  12. Movies are important to the story, but in the end May is most influenced by words and books. Why does she seem more interested in one form of media over the other?

  13. How important to the novel is the theme of forgiveness?

  14. Is Jamaica a character in this novel?

Recommended Books
The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
Book of Jamaica by Russell Banks
The Maroons of Jamaica, 1655-1796: A History of Resistance, Collaboration and Betrayal by Mavis Christine Campbell
My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn
One People by Guy Kennaway
Caribbean by James Michener
Walk Good: Travels to Negril, Jamaica by Roland Thomas Reimer
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Can’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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