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  • Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange
  • Written by Amanda Smyth
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  • Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange
  • Written by Amanda Smyth
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307460653
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Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange

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A Novel

Written by Amanda SmythAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Amanda Smyth

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: June 30, 2009
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-46065-3
Published by : Broadway Books Crown Trade Group
Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange Cover

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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Men will want you like they want a glass of rum…One man will love you. But you won’t love him. You will destroy his life. The one you love will break your heart in two.

So says the soothsayer, when predicting young Celia’s future. Raised in the tropics of Tobago by an aunt she loves and an uncle she fears, Celia has never felt that she belonged. When her uncle–a man the neighbors call Allah because he thinks himself mightier than God–does something unforgivable, Celia escapes to the bustling capital city.

There she quickly embraces her burgeoning independence, but her search for a place to call home is soon complicated by an affectionate friendship with William, a thoughtful gardener, and a strong sexual tension with her employer. All too quickly, Celia finds herself fulfilling the soothsayer’s predictions and living a life of tangled desperation–trapped between the man who offers her passion and the one who offers his heart.

Excerpt

One I knew about my parents from the things I was told. I had never seen a photograph of either of them because there weren’t any. But Aunt Tassi said that of course my mother was pretty and when I asked her how pretty she pointed at a pink hibiscus flower sticking out of a bush and said, “Pretty like that.” How did she wear her hair? She tied her hair in a knot and wrapped a cloth around her head, she told me one cool afternoon while we were walking into Black Rock village to look for cassava. And how tall was she? And what color exactly were her eyes? You say black but were they woody black or black like those African bees that once flew out of the rotten silk cotton tree or black like pitch that comes from the lake in Trinidad? Were they round or slanted, big or small? What did people think of her when they saw her? Would they turn their heads or pass her by?

Mostly when I asked these sorts of questions, my aunt carried on doing whatever she was doing as if I had not said anything at all. But it did not stop me from asking about my mother or thinking about my mother and wondering what she was like. I knew that she had worked in a barbershop called Mona’s in Bacolet and she met my father in this same salon. My father was passing through the islands on his way home to England from panning gold in British Guiana. And I knew that she probably didn’t cut hair like his too often. How could she, I told Aunt Tassi, if he was a white man. Whenever I said this was a romantic way to meet, my aunt said I shouldn’t get caught in romance; she usually said this when Roman Bartholomew, her husband, was in earshot.

She said my mother died after a long and difficult labor. Did she see me, I asked when I was five years old. I could not bear the idea of my mother never having seen me. Yes, Aunt Tassi said. Before she died she saw your tiny face and it made her laugh and cry at the same time because for the first time in her life she was happy. Then my aunt shook her head as if thinking about my mother made her sad, and I felt bad for asking. I was lying on my mother’s stomach covered in her slimy juices when she took her last breath. And we were in a room without windows and it was very hot, so they moved her to another room with a window and they opened it wide so her soul could fly out into the sky. It was night and someone lit a flambeau in the yard to help her find her way.

Aunt Tassi sent a letter to my father in Southampton, England, but my father did not reply and they buried my mother in St. George’s graveyard and they put a little cross of wood because they did not have money for a stone. When I asked my aunt if I had killed my mother she said of course not and how could I think so. When one soul flies in, another flies out. I was unlucky.

It just so happened that Aunt Tassi had a postcard from Southampton, sent to her by Father Carmichael. It was a photograph of a port and a lot of people waving at passengers I couldn’t quite make out. I could see the bow of a large boat but not the passengers. southampton was written in white capital letters along the bottom. Sometimes I took this postcard from behind Aunt Tassi’s dresser where it was held in place with a hair clip and I stared at the waving English people and I wondered if my father could be one of them or at least look like one of them.

... Everyone said I was lucky to have Aunt Tassi. My cousins, Vera and Violet, were three years younger than me. They looked the same and they spoke the same and they both laughed in the same way. Aunt Tassi often said how beautiful they were, but I never thought so. Their skin, yes. Their skin was dark and shiny and smooth like a melongen. But their faces were ordinary and identical, and their bodies were straight and thin, like stick men you draw when you don’t know how to draw somebody. Like me, they didn’t have a father. The moment Vera and Violet were born, their father ran away with a girl from Barbados and no one ever saw or heard from him again. I was very young so I don’t remember too much about this. But I remember that Aunt Tassi was often too sad to leave the house.

Then one afternoon, she took a walk into Buccoo, and along the Buccoo road came Roman Bartholomew, a short, skinny man whom the villagers called Allah, because he thought he was God. He said, Hello, Tassi D’Abadie, and took off his hat. My aunt nodded, politely. She knew of Roman Bartholomew but had never spoken to him before. How would you like to go to a dance in Carnbee village tonight? Yes, she said, why not. I have nothing else to do. Next thing, they were an item, and Roman got a job in Campbell’s Hardware Store, right there in Black Rock.

Every day on her way to Robinson Crusoe Hotel, where she cleaned rooms, Aunt Tassi would pass the blue wooden building and peer into the darkness and look for Roman. Sometimes he waved or he came out front and stepped into the bright white light. It was like that sometimes: a glaring light blasting everything as the sun climbed high above the island. And he might say, Tassi, you have anything? And she’d say, Yes, I brought you juice or a mango, or sugar cake or whatever she carried, or she might say, No, nothing you didn’t get already, and then she would turn and be on her way. Sometimes Roman asked her for money. “Tassi, you have a little change?” And she would dig inside the pocket of her blue-and-white-checkered apron and pull out a coin and give it to him. I didn’t like the way Roman looked at me—out of the corner of his slitty eyes—so I always hung back near the old pipe stand. “Celia so shy!” he’d say. “Like a little bird,” and he’d reach out his hand and whistle, as if I really was a bird.

People said it was like going from the frying pan into the fire. But Aunt Tassi felt so lucky to have found a man willing to put up with another man’s children and her dead sister’s child (me) that she latched on to him like a raft in the sea. He didn’t have two cents to rub together, and she didn’t care. As Aunt Sula once said, you see what you want to see and hear what you want to hear. Later that year, Roman, realizing he was on to a good thing, made Aunt Tassi “an honest woman.”

Mrs. Maingot used to say that Roman Bartholomew could crawl under a snake’s belly on stilts. Even then, I knew this was true. It was clear from the beginning that he couldn’t be trusted. Like that time we came from church and the house was close to burning down because he had fallen asleep with a cigarette. There was an orange line creeping along the floor at the exact moment we walked through the door. Aunt Tassi threw up her hands and shouted his name so loud, RO–MAN! I thought the whole village would hear. I ran for a bucket of water and Vera and Violet both started to scream so I told them to shut up and fetch more water but they were fixed to the ground like two posts. After the fire was gone and there were black streaks on the floor and on the wall, Roman made as if to cry. Suddenly Aunt Tassi was putting her arms around him and telling him not to fret. And then she opened up her purse and gave him a dollar and off he went to Jimmy’s bar at the end of the road to quieten down and make himself feel better, because these things happen, Aunt Tassi said. Sometimes it’s the devil who’s to blame.

But Roman was the devil. Since I was eight years old, he came around me, restless and pacing like a hungry dog. If I was doing my homework, he came into my room. He flicked the ribbons in my hair or he bent down and blew on the top of my head. Once he ran his fingertip down the back of my neck. I sat still as though I was made of stone. More often than not he stood in my doorway and stared and I pretended he wasn’t there. It was easier to allow him to do this than not to do this and “cause trouble,” as he put it, because no one would take any notice. You are nothing, he said one day, when I threatened to tell my aunt. You have nobody but Tassi, and Tassi need me like a plant need water, so who you think she will believe? I already tell her how you lie.

Tears streamed down my face. I said, “I will go to England and find my father. You can all go to hell!” Then I ran from the house and cut through the back where sunlight could not reach and made my way through the bush to the river. There were large stones there and they were warm and gray, especially on the other side. A big log that was once the trunk of a mahogany tree stretched from one side of the river to the other and I started to cross it. The water was not deep but there was a whirlpool and I slipped and fell. My arms went up and I became stiff and straight like a pencil and the water pulled me down and spun me around and I was sure that I would die. Everything was cloudy and blurred and the bottom of the river must have been stirred up because I could see gritty bits of it. I could feel it in my eyes and up my nose. Two boys fishing saw me fall. They ran to the bank and braced themselves between the rocks and hauled me out by my hair which they said afterward was like thick seaweed. When Aunt Tassi heard what had happened, she said she would never let me go to the river by myself and what in God’s name was I doing there.

Our wooden house stood up on stilts. There were two bedrooms, a small kitchen, a living room, and a tiny spare room that you could just about fit a bed in. I shared one room with my cousins. Around my bed was an invisible line which, when crossed, meant something very bad would happen to them. It was the same invisible line that ran around my books, my clothes, my shampoo, and my lavender toilet water. If Vera or Violet took something without first asking permission, I frightened them with stories of jumbies and La Diablesse and the terrible Soucouyant who would come and steal their skin in the night. I told them about the douens, the spirits with no faces and small feet turned backward, who would learn their names and call them away into the forest. Any mention of douens and my cousins would shiver with fear.
Amanda Smyth|Author Q&A

About Amanda Smyth

Amanda Smyth - Lime Tree Can't Bear Orange

Photo © Lee Thomas

AMANDA SMYTH’s short stories have been published in New Writing 12, London Magazine, Firsthand, and New Voices. She lives in England.

Author Q&A

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?

Praise

Praise

"The Caribbean's tropical sights and smells permeate Smyth's moving debut novel, but all is not paradise…Smyth paints a vivid portrait of a naive young girl who learns some hard truths about herself and her family, but though Celia's story is not always happy, it's arresting and powerful, a shining testament to human resilience.“
The Miami Herald

"Like Alice Walker, Smyth vividly and empathetically re-creates the gender and racial tensions in a culture’s past, making them newly relevant. Smyth is so attuned to the texture and flavor of Caribbean life, and she mimics the island patois so well.”
ELLE

“[An] enchanting debut….Smyth’s deftly captured tropical landscape and superstitions….keep things interesting.”
Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably assured debut, written in a controlled yet vibrant and beautiful prose that makes as much of the heart-stopping landscape of Trinidad as it does the cast of characters who inhabit the novel. A worthy relative of Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea."
Mslexia magazine

“Smyth writes entrancingly on tropical heat and light, indolence, vengeance and desire.”
The Guardian

“Smyth is Irish-Trinidadian, and her writing is as lushly beautiful as the landscape she describes - it's the kind of novel that leaves your head filled with gorgeous pictures.”
Times (London)

Certain novels are alive with color. Written in lush, lyrical language evocative of its tropical setting, Amanda Smyth's Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange is awash with bougainvillea, parakeets, blue crabs, manicous, rum, coconuts and obeah folk magic...Smyth's debut is an absorbing and morally complex read with a bittersweet twist at the end.
Financial Times

“A captivating read.”
Irish Times

“Compelling…it sings with life, texture, and verve.”
Daily Mail

“[An] engaging debut…the prose sways along through an exotic landscape of swamp crabs, magic charms, breadfruit trees, Frangipani, Bay Rum and Calypso music.”
Harper’s Bazaar UK

“Amanda Smyth's debut novel is an intricately told tale about the search for belonging and love…Smyth's beautifully vivid descriptions of lush plantations, glistening horizons and wide, open bays draw you into Celia's journey…Stunning and moving.”
Scotsman

“Smyth is a skilful ventriloquist; the local patois is energetically conjured, and the narrative pace is gripping. In painterly images, Smyth evocatively shows more than she tells...a vivid and compelling story.”
- Independent
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Celia’s mother died in childbirth while her father, she believes, lives in Southampton,England. Raised by her Aunt Tassi in Black Rock, Tobago, Celia is well cared for until the attentions of Uncle Roman become frightening and dangerous. Out of self-preservation, Celia must make an escape to the neighboring island of Trinidad and then flee to England to find her father and ultimately herself. But during her escape, she falls gravely ill. In Port of Spain, she is nursed back to health by William, a caring gardener, and his mother, who help Celia further by finding her a job with a local doctor’s family. What feels like newfound independence soon becomes a tangled and overwhelming web of secrets when Celia finds herself passionately involved with Dr. Rodriguez, the master of the house. Written with great beauty and economy, Lime Tree Can’t Bear Orange is the story of one woman’s search for love and identity by talented Caribbean newcomer, Amanda Smyth.

Discussion Guides

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?


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