Death of a River GuideAuthor: Richard Flanagan
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1. The land has always been important to Aborigines, a part of their being, not just something to be bought and sold, and their spirit lives in the land. Their Dreaming is their knowledge of the mythical time when the earth was born and their ancestors lived. Is this essentially a story about Aljaz's Dreaming? How important do you think is the Aboriginal element of the story?
2. Discuss how the river can be seen as a major character in the novel (see pp. 81 and 296 among others).
3. Consider the role of the Cockroach on the river journey, and as a catalyst for Aljaz's death. He has a premonition that the trip will end badly (p. 130).
4. Harry, age 12, asks why there is so much death (p. 201). There are a lot of deaths in this novel. At the end, were you left with a sense of relief that it was over or did you find reading it an uplifting experience? Is it ultimately a satisfying story?
5. What is Aljaz referring to when he says 'Those who refused to recognise the joke became part of it' (p. 129)?
6. There is a lot of humour in the book : 'Having drunk animals tell stories, personal stories ... about yourself and your family, then getting too drunk to continue - well, it's wrong' (p. 231). See what other examples you can find for discussion. Some of his descriptions of the punters on the rafting trip - the group dynamics and individual personalities are worth a look.
7. Consider Flanagan's writing style, how at times the narrator speaks directly to the reader and elsewhere he removes himself from what is happening (for example, 'I spy Aljaz' , p. 239).
8. How important is Aljaz's relationship with Couta Ho to the central themes of the novel?
9. Maria Magdalena Svevo is a minor character in the novel and yet it is her saying Madonna Santa! that is repeated as a motif throughout the novel (pp. 12, 37, 64, 151, 226, 264, 310, 320). Why is this important?
10. It has been said that the novel is written in the 'magical realism' style of South American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but it has also been frequently compared to the work of William Faulkner. Flanagan, however, has said that the novel is more influenced by the stories he heard as a child rather than any books. How would you describe its style?
11. First novels are often strongly autobiographical. How relevant is this to your reading of the novel, considering that fiction is usually based on real life?
12. What does Aljaz mean by the statement: 'And he knew this moment had been a long time coming?' (p. 304)