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The True History of Paradise Reader’s Guide

By Margaret Cezair-Thompson

The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. What does the title of this novel mean to you? Roy Landing “led [Jean] by the hand through the tall grasses alive with lizards and insects, to the gravestone of their ancestor General Crawford, who had fought against the Spanish for the island. This was a true story, he said” (p. 16). Why does Roy emphasize the world “true”? How does this word enhance the meaning of the novel’s title?

 2. Why do the immigrants to Jamaica (Mr. Ho Sing, Deepa, Rebecca Crawford, Jean Falkirk) feel so intensely Jamaican, regardless of where they came from and where they end up? 

3. Why is Monica unafraid of the violence around her? Why is she so contemptuous of fear? How did she get to be so hard? 

4. “However things turn out here, it will be bad for her. She has no interest in politics, no ideology, no allegiances; but it doesn’t matter; everyone has had to take sides” (p. 11). Why is Jean apolitical? How is she able to separate the essence and landscape of Jamaica– her home–from its politics? How does she manage to see them as two distinct entities? 

5. Rebecca Landing says that “the history of [ Jamaica] is a history of hell. It is also a history of grace terrestrial” (p. 25). Have you been somewhere else that embodies such extreme opposites? 

6. Why is Trevor so mournful and lost at the Christmas party at Cherry’s? 

7. In your opinion, is Jean’s decision to leave the island the right one? Will a life in America, with Alan, make her happy? Why does Jean believe, as she states on page 248, that she may never make love to a son of Jamaica? 

8. Jean thinks: “Paul and Lana are together, and I am to Paul what I’ve always been, that indefinable thing, not nothing, but not anything either” (p. 292). Can you define what they have? Why does Jean choose Alan over Paul when she so clearly loves Paul? Could Jean be happy with Paul? Do you think Paul loves her, in a way he couldn’t love Lana? 

9. Who of her ancestors tells her to stay? To go? Why? Who has the most compelling arguments? 

10. Jean asks “Who or what is to blame for Lana’s death? She wants a confession from this country, from its living and its dead” (p. 92). Is there an answer to this question? If so, what is it? 

11. What is the significance of the lost and broken possessions in Jean’s dream on page 10? 

12. Deepa believes that “the love you have in you heart for somebody– that is not enough” (p. 271). Do you agree with him? Is love enough for any of the couples in The True History of Paradise? 

13. At boarding school, Jean is drawn to Faye Galdy, who becomes her closest friend. Faye grows up to be a woman of strong political convictions, and holds “strange anger in her heart.” What makes Faye so belligerent? Why is she committed to staying in Jamaica and working with the disenfranchised, even putting her own safety at risk? How does the issue of race affect her?

 14. Mary “Iya ilu” cries “one day Congotay” (pp. 298—300). In the glossary, Congotay is defined as future reckoning. Do her words suggest retribution or redemption? Can Jamaica’s plight as presented in this book be traced back to the “original sin” of slavery? 

How does her ancestor’s story of loss, enslavement, and survival affect Jean? 

15. The last sentence of this book is “Panic and history are mine.” Is the ending ambiguous or certain? Does Jean leave the island? 

16. Does survival in this novel seem to be a matter of fate or resilience?  

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