Excerpted from Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange by Amanda Smyth. Copyright © 2009 by Amanda Smyth. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. In Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange, the description of the sights and smells of Trinidad and Tobago are so evocative, the reader feels transported to the Caribbean. What sounds, tastes, smells, etc. make you feel transported to that region?
When I was writing Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange, I had a pinboard above my desk with photographs—showing a particular light or a rise in the sea or an image from my childhood. There was one in particular of myself and my cousin. We were standing next to a an airplane, which for some reason had been abandoned. We’d been climbing inside it all afternoon
pretending to be stewardesses. There was something about that photograph that reminded me of childhood in a way that I felt I could dive into Celia’s world. It’s hard to explain. Also Peter Doig’s paintings were strongly affecting; their haunting, almost mystical qualities were very helpful. I printed out copies of several of his Trinidad paintings and stuck them on my wall. Visual aids were really useful. I also listened a lot to old Caribbean calypso music—the Trinidad greats: Sparrow, Kitchener, Calypso Rose…I found them very powerful.
2. At heart, this is a novel about the meaning of family. How did your family shape the story and the writing process? How do they feel about the book?
Story telling is a natural part of everyday life in Trinidad. Every afternoon when the sun is slipping away, we gather on the veranda to take a drink and talk about this and that. As a child, I remember sitting there, too; sometimes just long enough to catch my breath before running outside into the yard again, where my brother and my two cousins played catch or climbed guava trees or hunted for lizards.
I remember hearing about all kinds of things: an uncle who dreamed of buried treasure and how he would travel to a patch under a particular lime tree or a spot near the little school—and how he would dig all day in the hot sun for treasure; of course, he never found anything. I remember hearing about the hallway clock that stopped when a sister died faraway in Africa; a whispering ghost in a house down the islands; the pregnant scorpion that almost killed Aunt Isabella Fifita, and how she was carried by donkey to Port of Spain where an English doctor saved her life; I heard about the storm that nearly took the roof away the night my grandmother was born; the tiny dark lady from Madeira, who couldn’t speak a word of English when she married a giant Scotsman with red hair.
And then there was the story of my great grandfather—a fearless, lion of a man, loved by many—who was shot on his way to Tamana.
My mother remembered, as a small child, seeing my great grandfather’s body laid out and looking for the bullet hole. The family was destroyed, like a cyclone had passed amongst them. The murderers were never found. To this day, his death remains an unsolved case in Trinidad.
It is true to say that Lime Tree was inspired by this event. But not only this event. In writing the novel, I found myself remembering many of the stories and half stories I’d heard in the veranda over the years.
Without knowing it, the stories had become my own buried treasure. My grandmother has not yet read the novel.
3. How much of the novel is based on personal experience?
In terms of actual personal experience: I think the central character, Celia, is searching for her identity and her place in the world. I can relate to this, when I was much younger, at least. My family lived in Trinidad, and I lived in the UK. It was difficult. There was a point I realized that I had to build my own foundations. This is something Celia comes to realize.
4. The oral storytelling tradition is strong in Trinidad and Tobago, and the power of myth, fable, and story are evident in the shape of the novel. Did you think about these cultural touchstones as you were writing? If so, which ones?
Please see answer number 2!
5. What aspect/character/moment in your book do you think book groups and other readers will talk about the most?
This is a difficult question. One aspect could be Celia’s motivation. What is she looking for? Does she love Dr. Rodriguez? How is she changed by the end of the novel?
1. Born an orphan, Celia’s sense of family is tainted from the very start. How does her definition of family change throughout the story? She encounters several different families and many people she could consider her own family in both Tobago and Trinidad. Who does she consider to be her family by the end? Who does she reject? Why?
2. In Chapter 1, Aunt Tasi explains Celia’s mother’s death to a young Celia by saying, “When one soul flies in another flies out.” What other incidents in the novel could this expression explain?
3. Masculinity, especially in terms of the responsibilities of fatherhood and caregiving, plays a large role in the novel. Think about the men in the book—Roman, William, Solomon, Dr. Rodriguez, Joseph Carr Brown. How does each of these men fulfill and/or shirk his responsibility as a male caregiver? Do the women in the novel seem to share a similar relationship with their responsibilities as caregivers? If not, how are they different?
4. “Marriage is not for you. But you could have it if you want it. Men will want you like they want a glass of rum. Drink you up and pee you out. One man will love you. But you won’t love him. You will harm him. You will destroy his life…The one you love will break your heart in two.” This is Mrs. Jeremiah’s prediction for Celia's love life in Chapter 1. When does Celia identify which man in her life is the one man who will love her? Does she try to protect him from his potential fate?
5. Superstition and spiritualism have heavy presences in this novel. What purpose do they serve in termsof both the characters’ lives and as a literary tool used by the author?
6. “I believe you follow your life, Celia. You don’t lead your life. It’s a mistake people make. We’re not that powerful or important.” Joseph Carr Brown says this to Celia in Chapter 13. What does this mean? Does it seem to hold true for Celia’s life? Does she think so?
7. Both Helen and Celia long to go to England. What are each of their reasons? Do you interpret one as running toward England and one as running away from Trinidad? If so, which?
8. Most of this book is short thoughts from Celia or dialogue between Celia and the other characters without much description of their setting. However, there is a real sense of the life and lushness of Trinidad and Tobago within the novel on just about every page. What techniques did the author employ to convey the flavor of the islands without overtly describing the scenery?
9. “I don’t want you to be afraid. One day you’ll look back and say, I’m glad that happened, it’s made me who I am. Your feelings can tell you which way to go, like a compass.” In Chapter 26, Aunt Sula says this to Celia to help her through the difficult period after she leaves the Rodriguez household. Do you think Celia looks back at any of the difficult periods of her life and is glad? If so, which ones and when is she able to do this?
10. As his relationship with Celia progresses, Dr. Rodriguez seems to grow less and less discreet and eventually seems careless—or perhaps daring—with their secret affair. Do you think he actually wanted to be caught? Were you surprised at his reaction to his wife’s discovery of the affair?
11. Several themes in the novel center on the balance or tension within a dichotomy—white vs. black, family vs. outsider, religion vs. spiritualism. What are more examples of these dichotomies? Which characters can be identified with either side of each dichotomy and which seem to straddle both?
12. Celia could have pushed harder for support from Dr. Rodriguez when she confronted him with her pregnancy. She could have threatened to tell Helen or expose him to others in Trinidad. Why do you think she did not?
13. Celia pays close attention to beauty and the appearance of the people and places around her as do many of the characters. Who and what in the novel is beautiful? Does beauty seem to correlate to something more profound?
14. Home is an important concept in the book. Which characters have a sense of home in Trinidad? Which in Tobago? England? Does Celia ever come to peace with her own sense of home?
15. What is the meaning of the title Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange? By the end of the novel, how does this concept apply to Celia?