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The Story of the Cannibal Woman

A Novel
By Maryse Conde, Richard Philcox

Reading Group Guide

    Reading Group Guide
    The Story of the Cannibal Woman
    by Maryse Condè


    SUMMARY
    One dark night in Cape Town, Rosèlie's husband goes out for a pack of cigarettes and never comes back. Not only is she left with unanswered questions about his violent death, but she is also left without any means of support. At the urging of her housekeeper and best friend, the new widow decides to take advantage of the strange gifts she has always possessed and embarks on a career as a clairvoyant. As Rosèlie builds a new life for herself and seeks the truth about her husband's murder, acclaimed Carribbean author Maryse Condè crafts a deft exploration of post-apartheid South Africa and a smart, gripping thriller.
    The Story of the Cannibal Woman is both contemporary and international, following the lives of an interracial, intercultural couple in New York City, Tokyo, and Cape Town. Maryse Condè is known for her vibrantly lyrical language and fearless, inventive storytelling -- she uses both to stunning effect in this magnificently original novel.

    DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
    1. The Story of the Cannibal Woman is told mostly in the third person. However, there is an "I" that abruptly inserts itself into the story starting in chapter three. Who does this voice belong to? Rosèlie? How does the narration evolve and change throughout the novel?

    2. Several of Rosèlie's friends express concern regarding her relationship with Stephen. How is Rosèlie hindered by her marriage and how does she benefit from it?

    3. Stephen, known for making strong and often controversial claims, states on page 46 that, "the only valid creations in life are those of the imagination." Do you agree with this? How does the novel support and/or contradict this statement?

    4. Rosèlie's best friend Dido does not like Stephen and is often caught giving him hateful stares. In reference to this on page 107, the narrator states that, "good friends are always Cassandras." If this is a reference to Cassandra, the clairvoyant in Greek mythology, does that posit Rosèlie as a Clytemnestra-type character? And if so, what would this imply about Stephen and the circumstances surrounding his death?

    5. The song lyrics on page 110 imply that sex is the answer to despair and unhappiness. Does Rosèlie believe this to be true? What about her clients?

    6. On page 112 Stephen's computer and cell phone are described as foreign and almost evil. How and why is Rosèlie reluctant to engage with technology and the modern world?

    7. Racism is a constant theme in the novel. How is racism manifested in Cape Town versus in New York City?

    8. Given that Rosèlie is a painter and Stephen an English professor, art is important to this story. On page 127 the narrator notes that Fina "had given up [writing] and made due with a teaching job, which is the opposite of creativity." Is the narrator claiming that the creation of art is a singular and solitary act? Does the novel on the whole support this claim?

    9. On page 182 Amy says, "if I'm going to be devoured, I prefer it to be by my children." Who or what devours Rosèlie? Herself? Society? Men? Art? How does this relate to the title of the book?

    10. Rosèlie claims that she won't leave South Africa to go to Washington, D.C. because she doesn't want to leave Stephen. Is this the only reason? Why else might she be tethered to Cape Town? In what ways has Rosèlie already abandoned Stephen?


    ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB EXPERIENCE
    1. Give everyone in your book club a copy of Aeschylus's play Agamemnon. Compare its macabre elements (cannibalism, murder, blood) to The Story of the Cannibal Woman. You can download a free PDF version from the Text Kit website: http://www.textkit.com/learn/ID/6/author_id/5/

    2. Get your discussion started by serving South African or French wine. Check out Anthony Dias Blue's Pocket Guide To Wine 2007 (Fireside) for suggestions: http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=521445.

    3. Research the current race relations in post-apartheid South Africa. Does the novel accurately portray South African society?

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