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Casting with a Fragile Thread



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About The Author

Wendy Kann

Wendy Kann lives in Connecticut with her husband and children. This is her first book.

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About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Casting with a Fragile Thread are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Casting with a Fragile Thread.



Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the title of the book and how it speaks to the author’s sense of identity. How does that sense of identity change over the course of the book?

2. "I was trying to figure out what ‘American’ was so I could be just that," the author says. Who or what prevents her from feeling as though she belongs in America? Does she feel as though she belongs in Rhodesia? In Zimbabwe? If not, what prevents her from belonging there? Is the issue of belonging always about a geographical place?

3. The author is frustrated by her relationship with her mother and then later by that with her stepmother. She tries to be a substitute mother for Lauren, and later Luke. What are the roles and responsibilities of a mother? Are the expectations we have of our own mothers too high? What is the impact on a child in being forced to mother a parent or sibling? Can a stepmother ever really fulfill a child’s emotional needs? Discuss the significance of the term "motherland."

4. What accounts for the different choices the sisters make? Why, specifically, do you think that Lauren decided to marry Richard and move to Zambia?

5. The author seems to fall in love with Mickey, her future husband, on the basis of him asking her about South African politics. What does his question represent? What does the author gain by leaving Africa and marrying him? What does she lose? Why does she spend most of her time in America longing to return to the place where she experienced so much heartache?

6. What do we learn about cultural and social differences between Africa and America? What, specifically, do we learn about the role of women? Is the American feminist ethos always liberating?

7. The author writes: "America was a place where life played out gently, only in the middle octaves." Is her tone one of disappointment? What does it mean to survive a traumatic childhood? Why do some people survive it better than others?

8. Surprised to be given tea in a paper cup and to be served lobster on a paper tablecloth, the author ironically finds America to be a shabby substitute for Africa. Why do you think she comes to this conclusion?

9. How effectively does the author evoke Africa? Discuss the differences between her urban colonial childhood and the Africa of Luke’s childhood. Do we, as readers, have particular expectations from a book set in Africa? If so, why, and what does that say about our preconceived notions about the continent?

10. In general, do male characters play a significant role in Casting with a Fragile Thread? To what degree do men in Africa appear capable of sensitive or appropriate emotion? How is the author’s American husband similar to or different from African men? Discuss the relationship between culturally imposed gender roles and individual identity. Does the author’s experience of men contribute to her concerns about Luke’s upbringing?

11. As a child, the author literally does not see black people. By the end of the book, her tone is one of revelation rather than horror or guilt. As far as race is concerned, does she develop enough? As a white African, how much responsibility should she bear for racial injustice in her country’s history? Does her obliviousness to the implications of race suggest the possibility of equivalent blind spots in American culture today?

12. By the end of the book, does the author seem happy? Discuss memoir as a genre and how an ongoing life fits the conventional narrative structure of beginning, middle and end.

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