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A Novel

Written by Amanda Eyre WardAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Amanda Eyre Ward


List Price: $9.99


On Sale: January 29, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-50491-3
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group

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Read by Ann Marie Lee
On Sale: June 19, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7393-4411-8
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From the acclaimed author of How to Be Lost comes a gorgeous new novel about love, memory, and motherhood.

Nadine Morgan travels the world as a journalist, covering important events, following dangerous leads, and running from anything that might tie her down. Since an assignment in Cape Town ended in tragedy and regret, Nadine has not returned to South Africa, or opened her heart–until she hears the story of Jason Irving.

Jason, an American student, was beaten to death by angry local youths at the height of the apartheid era. Years later, his mother is told that Jason’s killers have applied for amnesty. Jason’s parents pack their bags and fly from Nantucket to Cape Town. Filled with rage, Jason’s mother resolves to fight the murderers’ pleas for forgiveness.

As Nadine follows the Irvings to beautiful, ghost-filled South Africa, she is flooded with memories of a time when the pull toward adventure and intrigue left her with a broken heart. Haunted by guilt and a sense of remorse, and hoping to lose herself in her coverage of the murder trial, Nadine grows closer to Jason’s mother as well as to the mother of one of Jason’s killers–with profound consequences. In a country both foreign and familiar, Nadine is forced to face long-buried demons, come to terms with the missing pieces of her own family past, and learn what it means to truly love and to forgive.

With her dazzling prose and resonant themes, Amanda Eyre Ward has joined the ranks of such beloved American novelists as Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett. Gripping, darkly humorous, and luminous, Forgive Me is an unforgettable story of dreams and longing, betrayal and redemption.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One

Nadine hears the parrots. So picturesque in the evening, floating over the courtyard while she sips tequila and deciphers the day’s notes, the birds make the hot dawn intolerable. Two thin pillows cannot block the cacophony. Nadine’s sheets press against her body. She remembers the warm lips of a local journalist, but wakes alone.

A room at La Hacienda Solita includes breakfast. Slowly, Nadine makes her way to the wooden table outside the kitchen. She orders eggs, beans, coffee, and juice from the girl. The juice arrives in a ceramic glass filled with ice cubes, and Nadine drinks it, though she should not. The girl—no more than ten—stands next to the table, her bare feet callused. She watches Nadine.

There is a communal shower. Nadine uses Pert Plus shampoo, bought in an American Rite Aid on her way back over the border: she was in a Laredo police station when the news of the twelve dead boys came in.

Nadine travels light: a comb, shampoo, lotion, lipstick. Two T-shirts, two pairs of pants, lace underwear—her one indulgence. She has an apartment in the Associated Press compound in Mexico City, but hasn’t been there in a month.

On the dashboard of her rental car, Nadine finds a rubber band. She pulls her black hair back with both hands, affixes the band, and puts on sunglasses. She opens her topographic map. Today, she will find and interview the boys’ families. The mother of one boy told a local TV reporter that her son had worked in a seafood restaurant. Her large, two-story home and expensive clothes told a different story.

The car’s air-conditioning is broken. Nadine punches the radio on and begins to drive. Her Spanish is good; languages have always come easily to her. She plays the music loudly and hums along. It’s a song about a man who wronged a woman. “If you come back to me,” the man sings, “I will never stray again.” She thinks of the journalist’s spicy cologne, his breath against her ear as they swayed to jukebox melodies at the cantina. She smiles. It took half a bottle of Herradura and a few kisses to get directions to the boys’ tiny village.

Nadine drives slowly down the narrow streets. Men unlock metal doors and heave them upward, exposing bright fruits and vegetables, rows of shirts, videocassettes. Women sweep the sidewalk and children walk to school, holding hands. A donkey cart blocks Nadine’s way, then lurches down a side alley.

Finally, she reaches the outskirts. Passing squat homes protected by latticework concrete, Nadine accelerates. The air blazing through her open window is little comfort. She heads toward the mountains. Ian made her promise to wear the bulletproof vest, but Nadine reasons that having it in the backseat is good enough. It’s heavy and bulky, and for Christ’s sake it’s got to be a hundred degrees.

Nadine reaches the place she’s marked on her map with an X and pulls off the road. At a gas station, she fills the car and takes out her list of names. The man behind the counter, old and overweight, looks at Nadine without expression. He sells her a warm Coke. When she asks to use the bathroom, the man gestures with his hand. She walks behind the store, positioning her feet on either side of the fetid hole.

The village does not have paved roads, and Nadine’s head begins to hurt as she drives over uneven ground. She sees a group of men gathered outside one thatched-roof home. The men stare as Nadine approaches. Nadine slows the car and tries a smile. She is met with stone faces.

The thoughts flood her—Something is wrong. You should have told Ian where you were going. You should not have come alone. Back away, put on the vest—but the thoughts will fade. Nadine sets her jaw and keeps driving.

The men look at one another, at the approaching Honda. By some consensus, they rush the car, and Nadine tries to stop, to reach the locks. It is too late, but she grabs the gearshift, smoothly putting the car in reverse.

As she presses the gas, a tall man wearing a Cookie Monster  T-shirt opens the passenger-side door. His sweat smells metallic as he climbs in the car. He unlocks the driver’s-side door, reaching across Nadine. The door is opened from outside. Two men drag Nadine out of the car and into the street. She fights—clawing at the men with her fingernails, screaming that she is periodista, a journalist. Their fists hit her stomach, and then her rib cage.
Amanda Eyre Ward|Author Q&A

About Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward - Forgive Me

Photo © Cory Ryan

Amanda Eyre Ward is the award-winning author of Forgive Me, How to Be Lost and Sleep Toward Heaven. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her family.
To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at www.apbspeakers.com  

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Amanda Eyre Ward

Amanda Eyre Ward spoke with Masha Hamilton, author most recently of The Camel Bookmobile. Masha and Amanda first met at Pete’s Candy Store, a bar in Brooklyn, where Masha had taken her underage daughter to hear Amanda read from her first novel, Sleep Toward Heaven. (Amanda had brought her new baby.) They hit it off immediately, and have been friends ever since.

Masha Hamilton: I’ve loved and admired all three of your novels, and each one probes different themes and settings. This time around, why did you choose to write about South Africa?

Amanda Eyre Ward: I’ve always been fascinated by South Africa. When I was in high school, I reviewed Alan Paton’s autobiography Journey Continued for my high school newspaper. Paton is the author of Cry, the Beloved Country, and I was stunned by his descriptions of South Africa. It sounded like such a beautiful place, and I was moved by Paton’s sorrow about what had become of his homeland. The world seemed very confusing to me. I wasn’t happy and didn’t have the power to fix things in my family. I think the fact that apartheid was such a clear wrong appealed to me. I wanted to fly to South Africa and do something to help. I thought I could help South Africans in a way I could not help myself. The first time I left the Eastern time zone, during my junior year in college, I flew to Africa. But I couldn’t visit South Africa at that time—there were no study abroad programs. I went to Kenya instead. It took me seventeen more years to finally set foot in South Africa.

MH: That’s something that intrigues me: the fact that our reach out into the world, often seen as idealistic, is of course wellintentioned and generous of spirit, but scrape away the surface and you find it is often also motivated by very personal situations that have led to unmet yearnings. In your case, for example, an inability to fix things within your own family led to a desire to help South Africans. In Forgive Me, Nadine, too, has personal reasons that propel her into the world. Beyond that, I know the novel is inspired in part by a true story. What about that story captivated

AEW: I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is amazing. The concept of telling the truth and being set free could not be more unlike the justice system in the United States, where victims might never know the truth about an incident, as the accused have to focus on winning a trial, rather than seeking forgiveness. Amy Biehl was a twenty-six-year-old Fulbright scholar when she went to South Africa. I had dreamed of going, but Amy made the trip, devoting herself to teaching underprivileged students. One night, Amy was driving a student home in Guguletu Township when her car was surrounded by an angry mob. Like the fictional Jason Irving, Amy was killed by the same children she was trying to help. Unlike the fictional Irvings, Amy’s parents supported amnesty for Amy’s killers from the beginning. The Biehls attended the TRC hearings and went on to found the Amy Biehl Foundation, which supports township children in a myriad of ways. I found the Biehls’ ability to forgive their daughter’s killers simply astonishing. Their story inspires me.

MH: They were able to understand that underlying conditions were more responsible for Amy’s death than any individual, but I think that kind of comprehension is rare. Knowing the entire arc of the real story as you did, did you outline? How much research did you do before you began to write? Because you knew Amy’s entire story, did you know how your own story would end before you began?

AEW: As usual, I had absolutely no idea where my novel was headed. I keep hoping that I will learn something and be able to save myself the trash cans full of mistaken routes. I rented a room at the Beach Breeze Inn in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and filled it with maps, photos, and index cards. I knew my characters, but I had no idea where they would lead me. For one thing, I thought Nadine and George were in love. The story changed over the winter as I wrote and watched the snow on the water.

MH: I think this is one of the magical aspects of fiction—that it forks off from the strict outline of the facts, and manages to go somewhere deeper and, I believe, ultimately more truthful. The characters begin to take over and dictate their own actions; at least that’s always how it feels to me. So how did your visit to South Africa change the novel in progress?

AEW: I have a young son, and didn’t want to leave him to travel to South Africa. I talked to everyone I knew who had been there, and tried to research the TRC online. People told me Cape Town was like San Francisco, so I tried to write the book imagining a San Francisco in Africa. It was ludicrous! In the end, I knew the book needed to appeal to a reader’s senses to work—I needed to breathe in South Africa in person. I called my sister Liza and said, “Would you come with me to Cape Town?” Without a second’s hesitation, she said, “Yes.” I bought the tickets about ten minutes later. Liza took photographs and followed me wherever I wanted to visit. We also lucked into an amazing cab driver, Rashid, who drove us to places many drivers wanted to avoid. (Anyone visiting Cape Town should contact me for Rashid’s phone number.) Our guide, Patrick Lutuli, introduced us to Khayelitsha Township, which was worse than I had imagined. I have traveled to some dangerous places, but I never felt afraid until I was a mother. Suddenly, I was no longer just responsible for myself. I lay awake for a few nights, thinking about the fact that one of the things I was most proud of—my ability to travel courageously—wasn’t necessarily a characteristic that made for a great mother. This journey into motherhood became one of the major themes of the book. By the time I was on the flight home, I had completely reimagined Forgive Me.

MH: How long were you in South Africa?

AEW: Only six nights. (I couldn’t bear to leave my son for longer than that.) We stayed for three nights at the Mount Nelson Hotel, a gorgeous Colonial-era hotel with many swimming pools and luxurious rooms . . . men in pith helmets drinking high tea, a champagne bar, the whole nine yards. Then we went to Khayelitsha Township, a slum a few minutes away, for three nights. It was quite an adventure.

MH:Was it difficult to find people to share their stories while you were in South Africa? I’m wondering if your experience mirrored Nadine’s in that regard?

AEW: It was interesting. . . . Many people were loath to talk about the past. This could be because many people I met were working for hotels or tour companies, and didn’t want to focus on the dark side of South Africa. There’s so much beauty to talk about too, so many amazing beaches, mountains, vineyards, and people. Parts of Cape Town feel like San Francisco, or Austin. Kloof Street is like South Congress Street in Austin, truly.

MH: Your comment about how not really feeling fear until you were a mother is one that resonates with me; I’m the mother of three and yet have not been able to resist diving into Gaza or visiting the poppy fields near Kandahar where farmers harvest opium. There is no doubt that I am more careful and cautious, though, than before kids. Nadine, of course, is not yet a mother as the novel begins. What was the easiest part of her character for you to explore—in other words, what felt most familiar to you personally—and what was the hardest?

AEW: As you know, speaking to you about your career gave me the idea of creating a character like Nadine, Masha. Our conversations about how journalists give up pieces of themselves to get an interviewee to reveal their truest story helped me so much in imagining what sort of a person Nadine would have to be to be successful in her field. She is also courageous—unafraid to drive right into a Mexican drug cartel or visit Subcomandante Marcos’s jungle hideout—but so frightened to trust anyone or care about anyone other than herself. I can certainly relate to these traits. So much of creating Nadine’s life was a simple process of research—where she would have been in the world at what age—but understanding her fierce independence, and trying to create the one man who might convince her to let her guard down, the emotional stuff, this was harder for me. One day, I was hiking out to Nobska Lighthouse in Woods Hole and thinking about Nadine, and I realized she was a woman who had lost her mother. Then Nadine made sense to me, and I wrote the scene where Nadine and her mother, Ann, visit the same lighthouse toward the end of Ann’s battle with cancer.

MH: This rings so true for me, Amanda: the idea that finding a way in, even a single point on which we can truly connect with our character, helps other less-familiar traits become more understandable. I think that’s true for journalists interviewing subjects as well as novelists getting to know their characters. Another important point you raise is how Nadine is courageous during moments many would find terrifying, and yet scared of things others
find easy, such as being linked to (and possibly tied down by) a man. That brings us to Lily. She is a wonderful character. We see in many ways that her life, if more ordinary than Nadine’s, is just as important and challenging. What can you tell us about the genesis of this character?

AEW: As a mother of two young sons, it wasn’t hard to come up with the character of an overwhelmed mother, let’s put it that way. I have many friends who are happily devoted to motherhood, and I admire them. But it’s really hard to be home with toddlers; it’s a whole indoor world.

MH: Yet you’ve made Lily very strong and well-rounded, and I love that. I’d also like to know about the inspiration for the character of Thola, with her mixture of strength and vulnerability.

AEW: While researching the book, I learned about the Freedom Fighters who had left South Africa to train in Mozambique and elsewhere. They then returned to South Africa to fight against the apartheid government, and many were killed. Forgive Me began with the idea of a sheltered girl on Cape Cod, a girl who grew up to be Nadine, writing to a young South African girl, who was Thola. I envisioned Thola and Nadine as pen pals. Thola was always fully formed in my mind, a grand personality from the start.

MH: Forgive Me has a complex structure. Did you know how it would all come together?

AEW: Not at all. In fact, when I first told my editor about the book, I talked about South Africa and Nadine. We were sitting in her car, outside my hotel room in San Francisco. At the very end of our conversation, I said, “Then I keep hearing the voice of this boy who wants to be a star.” I told her a bit about him, and my editor said, “The boy is the heart of the story.” I remember going up to my hotel room thunderstruck. She was exactly right, so I picked up my hotel pad and pen and wrote, listening to what the boy had to say. Who he was and how his search for stardom would turn out all came later.

MH: What are you working on now?

AEW: I have a pile of newspaper clippings on my desk, and each one could be a novel. There are also some great stories I’ve heard that have stuck with me. I plan to take a few months to daydream and see what develops. This is the most wonderful time. . . . I get to wander around bookstores and museums, eavesdrop on people’s conversations, and come up with my next book, which is still perfect in my mind, before I write a word.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. If you have read Ward’s previous novels, How to Be Lost and Sleep Toward Heaven, did you find similarities between them and Forgive Me? How would you describe Ward’s writing style? To which other writers would you compare her work?

2. Was the depiction of apartheid in Forgive Me consistent with what you have heard or read, or did it change your sense of the conditions? Was the South Africa of the novel familiar or new to you?

3. Ward says she was compelled by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s model, “the concept of telling the truth and being set free.” What were your impressions of the TRC? Can you imagine how hearing a perpetrator’s story in his or her own words might influence your judgment of a crime?

4. How does forgiveness figure into the novel? Who seeks forgiveness? Who is able to forgive? Did the novel make you think about forgiveness in your own life?

5. What did you think of the Irvings? Could you forgive someone who killed a loved one?

6. After finishing the novel, did your reading of the epigraph change?

7. Did your feelings about Nadine change over the course of the novel? What parts of her character do you relate to the most? Does she do anything you found morally questionable?

8. One reviewer wrote that upon finishing Forgive Me, “readers will want to start all over again, looking for the clues they missed the first time around when Ward, like a cunning magician, so deftly led them astray.” Did you reread sections of the novel morethan once, uncovering clues? How did the journal entries affect the unfolding story for you? What about them did you find most poignant? Misleading? Illuminating?

9. There are many ambitions in this novel—from Nadine and Maxim’s commitment to capturing the ravages of war, to Thola’s dancing career, to the aspirations charted in the “Nantucket to Stardom” entries. How does ambition define the characters in Forgive Me? How does it disappoint them?

10. In many ways motherhood is at the heart of this book. What do the mothers in the novel—Ann, Fikile, Sophia, Lily, and ultimately Nadine—have in common? How do their circumstances and choices distinguish them from one another?

11. How does growing up without a mother affect Nadine? In what ways does she seem to reconsider the role of a mother? Did you find the path she chooses unexpected or inevitable? Does it resonate with your own experience of reconciling work and family life?

12. Do you think Thola loved George? What struck you most about their story?

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