Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Healer of Carthage includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lynne Gentry . The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
The first in the series, Healer of Carthage takes readers through a journey in time when Dr. Lisbeth Hastings falls through a hidden hole in her father’s archaeological dig site and awakens in third-century Carthage. Propelled into the unknown, she grapples to rescue those she loves, risking much, while simultaneously experiencing her own rescuing. Slavery, religious persecution, and disease serve as a dark backdrop for romance, justice, and courage, and the stage is set for a dramatic, suspenseful story of freedom.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Lisbeth meets Cyprian for the first time when she is sold to him as a slave. To win Lisbeth, Cyprian intentionally bids higher than the proconsul because “rescuing those the proconsul keeps in bondage is worth the risk” (page 48). Explain the risks Cyprian takes in outbidding the proconsul. How does the theme of both rescue and risk characterize Lisbeth and Cyprian at this point?
2. In Chapter 7, Lisbeth realizes that her fall has taken her back in time to mid-third-century Roman Carthage. Lisbeth recalls that Roman rule and the city change drastically during this time period with a “bloody, volatile mess in the African provinces” (page 60). If you could choose a previous time period to live in, which one would it be and why? What historic challenges are associated with that time period?
3. When Lisbeth first discovers her mother is alive, she is filled with a myriad of emotions as to why her mother had not returned to them. “Had Mama chosen this life over the one they’d had together? Why didn’t she want to return to her and Papa?” (page 82). Have you ever assumed you’d been rejected or abandoned by a loved one? If so, how has time and further communication changed your perspective on the decisions this loved one made?
4. One of the believers, Numidicus, expresses concern over Christian persecution in Carthage: “Already believers are blamed for any misfortune that befalls Carthage. Persecution of the worst kind will come upon us if this sickness spreads. Aspasius will not rest until he sees us all fed to the lions” (page 70). He wishes to take his daughter and leave Carthage to flee from the spreading sickness and persecution, encouraging other believers to do so. If you were in third-century Carthage at this time, would you have stayed or left? Why?
5. Aspasius’s evil plan of destruction through a cleansing was designed to enable a “return to the pure lineage that would carry the borders of Rome to the ends of the earth” and create a “perfect Carthage” (page 107). Describe other real-life cleansings that have occurred or are occurring in the world. How do you see social, economic, or religious injustices play out in present-day American culture?
6. In order to stop Aspasius’s inflicting rule, Cyprian seeks a seat in the senate. Bishop Caecilianus asks Cyprian a question that contrasts with his desire to take proactive steps to secure a better Carthage: “So, in your educated opinion, relying upon the power of our Lord is futile?” (page 115). Cyprian responds that he is “not discounting God, but surely the Lord does not expect us to sit upon our hands? Do nothing? Allow evil to run its ugly course?” (page 115). Do you think the bishop’s, or Cyprian’s, perspective is the better path to take? Why? How do you personally navigate relying on the power of the Lord or others, versus proactively engaging in righting the wrong or striving for good?
7. Shortly after saving Junia from the measles, Lisbeth helps heal her mother from one of Aspasius’s beatings and discovers that the Down-syndrome boy, Laurentius, is her half brother. How do these encounters alter Lisbeth? How does Lisbeth begin to see her mother? How have you been changed by helping another?
8. How does Lisbeth’s offer to marry Cyprian compare and contrast with the decision of her mother to stay in Carthage for so long?
9. Lisbeth asks herself, “Could a human being alter the preordered boundaries of time enough to make a difference? What if fate had given her an unprecedented opportunity to right her own wrong?” (page 262). How do your actions today alter the preordered boundaries of time, specifically the future? Choose one area in your life that will impact your future and that you would like to change. Develop a plan to change it. Conversely, if given an opportunity to redo a wrong, which one would it be? And what would you do differently?
10. How does the status and progression of Lisbeth’s relationship with her mother parallel Lisbeth’s relationship and actions toward Abra, Junia, and Laurentius?
11. When Lisbeth finds the way to return home she is faced with a decision. If she returns home, she could save her Papa and her old life. If she stays in the third century, she could save Mama, Laurentius, and Carthage. She wonders if maybe Cyprian could save her. What do you think she means by the latter thought? Discuss how Cyprian, Lisbeth, and Magdalena are both rescuers and the ones being rescued. How is this true of your life?
12. A horrifying and unjust scene unfolds in Chapter 56 when Aspasuis accuses Ruth, Lisbeth, Cyprian, and Caecilianus. Was there a particular hero that emerged? Explain. Could you imagine yourself facing death for refusal to bow to a god different than your own? Could you imagine giving yourself up for a loved one in order to prevent their death? Which of these would be easier for you to do? Why?
13. Consider the relationship between Magdalena and Lisbeth. How do you think Magdalena must have felt as a mother with a son to protect in one world and a beloved daughter in another world? After all of the heartache, why do you think Magdalena sacrifices the nearness of her precious daughter once again when she pushes Lisbeth down the cistern?
14. The story opens and closes with Lisbeth’s evaluation of an Arabic baby named Abra. How does Lisbeth’s medical failure as a doctor in the opening scene compel and affect her throughout the book? In what ways has a failure in your life compelled and affected your journey?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Research the Cave of the Swimmers. Who discovered it and when? Where is its actual location? Who are the Neolithic artists proposed to be?
2. As Christians rendered aid to both believers and nonbelievers during the third-century health crisis of Carthage, social barriers were breached and Christianity spread. Select a time for the group to volunteer with an existing organization that will allow you to breach the social, economic, or religious barriers outside of your everyday norm.
3. Identify someone in your life that has sacrificed to allow you to be where you are today, rescuing you in some way. Share that story with the group, or write the individual a letter to express your gratitude.
4. Lisbeth carried her Mama’s stethoscope with her for years, a tangible reminder of her nearness and love. Identify an object, or craft one that represents who you are. If fitting, perhaps this item can be given to a loved one.
5. Lisbeth is forced to learn natural remedies in order to care for the sick in third-century Carthage. Research the various ways you can use lemon, honey, and sea salt as natural remedies for things such as skin care, sore throats, electrolyte imbalance, and more!
A Conversation with Lynne Gentry
Who or what inspired you to write Healer of Carthage?
The call of adventure. Those who know me best know that I long to travel. To live unfettered by the restraints of time and money, to see the world, and experience many different cultures. Reading takes me to those places. So when I read about a group of tourists kidnapped from the Cave of the Swimmers, my mind immediately joined their exotic desert excursion. It was as if I touched the faded swimmers painted upon the sandstone walls and disappeared into third-century Carthage. My expedition into this ancient world of danger and intrigue has been the most exciting and satisfying mind trip yet.
You are not only a writer but also a dramatist with an educational background in speech and theater. How does this background influence your writing and storytelling process?
When actors are afraid to let their minds venture into the world of make-believe, their characters remain flat and unconvincing. That’s why I use lots of imagination games that teach my student actors how to take mental risks. When my fictional characters are reluctant to step outside their comfort zone, I have been known to pull out an acting exercise that will nudge them in the right direction.
Who is your favorite character? Why?
Lisbeth’s Down-syndrome half brother Laurentius. The original purpose of adding this young man to the cast was to demonstrate the easy-to-overlook compassionate side of the Romans. I didn’t know he was Lisbeth’s secret sibling until after she performed her rescue procedure. The moment Laurentius opened those almond-shaped eyes and offered Lisbeth unconditional love, I knew this boy had been loved. But by whom? I looked across the room and there was Magdalena glancing anxiously over her shoulder, and suddenly I had the reason Lisbeth’s mother could not return home. I couldn’t have left Laurentius either.
Describe your favorite writing location or room.
My creativity is stimulated by interactions with real people. Most of my writing is done in the thick of our family life—at the kitchen table. I have a lovely office, but it is tucked away on the second floor. Too far from the action for this extrovert. If I really need to concentrate on writing details, I will trudge the stairs. But after three or four hours of isolation, I’m breaking free.
Your research process was thorough and tapped into the knowledge of a medical intern, a theological graduate student, and historical resources. How long did the research process take you? How long did the writing process take you?
My fascination with history originated with the books I read as a kid. I loved the daring spirit of the pioneers of Little House on the Prairie and the against-all-odds survivor story of The Swiss Family Robinson. I spent hours contemplating how those people lived without electricity, indoor toilets, modern medical care, or a good hair dryer. Over the years I’ve collected boxes of research and stacks of historical books. Creating an imaginary world from the gathered bits and pieces has been a lifelong journey. Actually putting the story on the page took about twelve months.
What would you describe as the main theme(s) in Healer of Carthage?
On the surface, the story’s theme is mercy. The mercy God freely gives us and our willingness to offer mercy to others. But, to me, this story is really about the mercy we extend to ourselves. Like so many of us, Lisbeth was stuck. Hanging on to the past was sabotaging her future. It wasn’t until she accidentally fell into the biggest adventure of her life that she learned how to forgive herself and move forward.
What do you want readers to experience or take away from this novel?
I hope readers close the last page and say, “Whew! That was one wild and courageous ride.” I marvel at how a scruffy little band of misfits changed history. Their bravery bolsters my courage to love with reckless abandon.
In the Author’s Notes section you say, “The cost of true courage is great, and few are willing to pay the price.” How has your own journey of courage shaped the path Lisbeth takes?
Courage is not the absence of fear. Real courage is being scared to death but doing it anyway. When this story idea came to me, I was afraid to write something so different. But a still small voice inside kept saying, “Trust me.” So while the laundry and dishes piled up, I wrote. Day after day. Even when I didn’t see the point. Even when I wanted to stop. So many times in this story, Lisbeth is faced with the same questions that plagued my unexpected undertaking. Why me? Why this place? Will I be sorry if I don’t give it my all? If you’ve been called to do something that scares you to death, let me encourage you to take the risk. Living with regret is not living.
You are a co-founder of The Echo Project, a humanitarian organization that brings aid to those in Africa. Healer of Carthage also touches on the theme of bringing aid and relief to those who are without. Discuss this passion for justice and mercy in your life.
In the 1940s a polio epidemic swept the world. Everyone was terrified. My mother was one of the half-million children who contracted the crippling disease. If Berni’s country doctor hadn’t risked breaking the quarantine, she would have died. It makes me mad when children suffer, whether from disease, poverty, or lack of opportunity. I want to pack my bags and rescue little ones around the world. But until that is financially feasible, co-founder Lisa Harris and I are doing what we can to give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. If you’d like to learn more about what we do for kids, visit www.theechoproject.org.
An excerpt from the sequel Return to Exile begins with the following line: “Time is not the healer of all things.” Is this an idea that you would like your readers to grasp? Why?
Who hasn’t wanted to turn the clock back and change things? Yet, as we all know, some choices leave wounds so deep they never heal. The whole idea of fixing mistakes implies that we can eliminate the consequences. But can we? This intriguing conundrum drives Dr. Lisbeth Hastings’s quest to right her wrongs. But if she eliminates the consequences of her first visit to Carthage, she also stands to eliminate the thing she loves the most. Now that’s an adventure I don’t want to miss.