A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farm
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
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 see more