About the Author
SARAH STONE lived in Bujumbura, Burundi, from 1991 to 1993, where she volunteered at the Jane Goodall Institute, taught English as a second language, and reported on human rights. She is on the faculty of the College Writing Programs at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives with her husband, writer Ron Nyren, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Reading Group Guide
The True Sources of the Nile Reading Group Companion,
Copyright 2002 by the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group
We hope that the following topics will help your reading group give voice to new ideas and enjoy a spirited discussion.
1. If a central theme of this novel seems to be the ways people evade or accept their “duty,” how does this appear in the ways the three sisters respond to their mother’s illness? How does it appear in Anne’s relationship to Burundi and to her work there? How does this idea of duty relate to her final actions and decisions in the novel? What do you think of her decisions? What do you think of Jean-Pierre’s relation to “duty,” toward his family and toward Burundi?
2. Anne’s mother turns to romances when she is undergoing chemotherapy. What does she get from them? How do the romances relate to the overall structure and themes of the novel as a whole? Is there a way in which the "quoted" passages from the romances change your reading of the love affair between Anne and Jean-Pierre?
3. How is Jean-Pierre’s relationship to Christine and Francoise similar to or different from Anne’s relations to her sisters? How is their love affair changed by the events involving their sisters? How is Anne’s relation to her sisters changed by the events in Burundi? Does her view of her sisters seem accurate to you, based on their words and actions? What does the reader observe about them that Anne might not?
4. What you think of Margaret’s action in taking her mother’s money? How do her actions relate to the larger themes of the book? Do her sisters respond appropriately? What does their handling of this situation say about ethics and family?
5. When Anne begins to hear Jean-Pierre’s stories about his past, his revelations become entangled with their sex life. Why and how does this happen? How does this change the way Anne responds to his stories? How does this change the way you respond to his stories? If Anne had been in Jean-Pierre’s position, what you think she would have done? What do these scenes show us about the nature of warfare?
6. In what ways are Jean-Pierre’s past actions shaped by his history and upbringing? To what extent is he responsible for these actions? What does Anne seem to think? Does this change during the course of the novel? What do you think Jean-Pierre’s actions and beliefs show about the relationship of the individual human being to society?
7. In this novel, most of the characters have secrets. Do any of the secrets seem justified? If so, which ones? How is Anne changed by discovering the secrets? Does the novel seems to suggest that most people have secrets, or do these circumstances seem particular to the situations of the characters here?
8. Anne says, about her mother’s cancer, “I secretly thought that we would be sad when we lost her, but that her death wouldn’t matter. Not in comparison to tens of thousands of Burundian dead.” What do you think of this idea? How do we respond to individual deaths in tragic times?