Good Reading : September 2008
18 goodreading ı SEPTEMBER 2008 About the author Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university in Western Australia, and then the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband, before returning to Australia where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Her films Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have won numerous awards and have been shown at international film festivals from Zanzibar to New York. Malla and her husband now live in Sydney with their two children. Synopsis In the tiny South African town of Jacob’s Rest, Detective Emmanuel Cooper is sent to investigate the murder of an Afrikaans police officer, Captain Willem Pretorius. Cooper, an ‘English’ South African, is viewed with suspicion by both the Boer Afrikaans and the dead man’s prominent family, and his investigation is quickly taken over by Security Branch. But Cooper isn’t interested in political expediency, or making friends in high places, and as he pursues his own inquiry, he discovers that Captain Pretorius had led a deadly double life. The more he digs, the more dangerous the investigation becomes. Cooper has secrets of his own. If he can survive long enough to learn the truth about Captain Pretorius, it might just save his life. Reading Group Questions 1. A Beautiful Place to Die is set in Apartheid-era South Africa. Do you think it is important for a crime novel to have an exotic setting? What do you think such a setting adds to the story? Did you find Detective Emmanuel Cooper to be a sympathetic character? How do his actions in the novel influence your opinion? 2. The white landowners in the novel are proud of their heritage and achievements, despite the damage done to the land’s original inhabitants’ culture and traditions. How does this pride influence their attitudes towards the indigenous inhabitants and the ‘mixed- race’ townspeople? Are they just products of their society? 3. What do you understand by the term ‘mixed-race’? Would Constable Shabalala be considered ‘mixed-race’, since he is part Zulu, part Shangaan? Do you think he is treated differently to other ‘mixed-race’ characters in the novel, such as Davida and Anton? The Pretorius brothers refer to Dr Zweigman as ‘the old Jew’. Is this racist? 4. As shown by the actions of Piet and Dickie in A Beautiful Place to Die, the South African Security Branch (or secret police) wielded unprecedented powers at the time. Do you think this level of power has changed in the last fifty years? Should covert security agencies be more accountable for their actions? 5. Inter-racial relationships were forbidden by law in 1950s South Africa. What rights do you believe governments have to regulate citizens’ private lives? 6. Most of the characters in the novel own and know how to use guns. Is this a result of the novel’s rural setting, or a part of ‘gun culture’ particular to the time and place A Beautiful Place to Die is set in? What do you see as the pros and cons of a society’s ‘gun culture’? 7. Detective Cooper is a good man livinginabaderawho,asfarasheis able, works to ensure his ethics remain intact. How hard do you think it is to maintain one’s own ethics if the society in which one lives seems morally bankrupt? A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn is published by Pan Macmillan, rrp $32.99. Looking for a book for your reading group to read and discuss? This month we’ve selected a debut crime novel, A Beautiful Place to Die by MALLA NUNN which is set in South Africa. reading group who dunnit?