Topics for Discussion
1. One way to interpret the supernatural elements in the story is to explain them as figments of Nhamo's imagination. Another way to look at them is to accept them as real, as Nhamo does. What evidence is there in the story to support either or both of these possibilities? What is the author's attitude toward the spirit realm?
2. Stories about a person or group of people who are stranded on an island far from civilization and have to survive indefinitely on their own are called "Robinsonnades," for the famous setting from Robinson Crusoe. Is A Girl Named Disaster a Robinsonnade? Is this a realistic tale of survival? Could a girl of Nhamo's age and background survive on her own in unfamiliar territory for such an extended period of time?
3. Farmer uses many foreign words and phrases. Do these terms help or hinder the story? Are they necessary for the reader's understanding or would it have been better to use only English words?
4. Many writers and teachers argue that an outsider cannot speak authentically for another group of people. When white Americans write about Third World cultures, their books can be patronizing and full of inaccuracies. Can Farmer be accused of such cultural crimes?
5. Storytelling is an important aspect of the Shona culture. What role does it play in Nhamo's personal life? How do the specific stories she tells fit her situation?
6. At the end of the book, Nhamo has grown up into the perfect image of the woman in the margarine ad. What is the significance of this physical transformation?
7. Journeys in literature tend to be symbolic of other things. What does Nhamo's journey represent? Compare her travels to other books you have read that contain a journey or quest motif, such as Huckleberry Finn or Moby Dick.
8. A Girl Named Disaster is in many ways an adventure story. Adventure has traditionally been perceived as a genre that appeals mainly to males. Does this book break the stereotype? Why would adventure appeal more to males than to females? What kind of story would have the opposite appeal?
9. What is the significance of Nhamo's name? Does she live up to its meaning or overcome it?
10. How do past events influence Nhamo's life? Look particularly closely at the relationship between Ambuya and Aunt Chipo and at the personal characteristics of NhaNhamo's parents. Does family history have a similar influence in American culture?