Reading Group Guide
1. In a 1994 interview Gordimer said, "We are all many people, and each of our acquaintances or friends or lovers or children knows a different person. In the end you are left with this refraction of yourself, and it's for you to find out what you really are." What does Vera learn about who she is over the course of the story? How does she change in the eyes of her family members?
2. None to Accompany Me is divided into three sections: Baggage, Transit, and Arrivals. Why do you think the author chose these titles? How are they particularly appropriate to the experience of returning from exile?
3. Zeph Rapulana is an ambiguous figure, politically astute, financially savvy, soft-spoken yet ambitious. As she gets to know him, Vera acknowledges the beginning of some new capability in her, something in the chemistry of human contact that she was only now ready for. What does Zeph represent for her? What she seeks in her new living arrangement is a consequence in which there were loyalties but no dependencies. Is that realistic?
4. After sleeping with Otto for the first time, Vera lay beside Ben that night with a sense of pride and freedom rather than betrayal. Her infidelities, though few, are tremendously significant. What purpose do they serve for her? Nothing if not a realist, Vera's only indulgence is of her sensual nature. Is that a contradiction? Has it affected her daughter's sexuality?
5. Vera muses, "It was as if, in the commonplace nature of their continuing contact through the Foundation, [she and Zeph Rapulana] belonged together as a single sex, a reconciliation of all each had experienced, he as a man, she as a woman. Is Vera, "the great lover of men," as Gordimer calls her in this interview, reaching a new middle ground between the sexes? If so, what are the implications?
6. Describing the Maqoma's years of complicity in exile, Gordimer writes, "The abstentions from adultery that trust means to most couples are petty in comparison; this was the grand compact beyond the capacity of those who live only for themselves." What effect can political comradeship have on a marriage? How is the relationship between Sibongile and Didymus affected by the reversal of their public roles when they return to South Africa? How does their marriage compare to the changing relationship between Vera and Ben?
7. Referring to the fact that Vera's work has always been more important than Ben's, Annie asks her mother, "Is there ever a fair division of labour, as you call it, between couples?" What do you think? How does it bear out in Ivan's and Annie's liaisons?
8. Sixteen-year-old Mpho combines the style of Vogue with the assertion of Africa. Yet she speaks neither Xhosa nor Zulu, but a perky London English. How does her experience of her homeland compare with that of Ivan, who has migrated in the opposite direction?
9. "Once [Bennet] had been the answer to everything; that was falling in love: the end of questions," reflects Vera early on. But Ben's experience of life through his wife becomes intolerable to her. "I cannot live with someone who can't live without me," she says to their daughter. "When someone gives you so much power over himself, he makes you a tyrant." Ben goes away knowing that he does not know how to carry on his life alone. Do you feel sorry for him? Is Vera justified? Vera slips away from her family because Bennet needs her, and her children don't. Is that inconsistent?
10. Vera gradually detaches from sex, from family, from all but the demands of her public life. When Annie asks, "What have you wanted?" her mother answers, "To find out about my life. The truth. In the end. That's all." Do you agree with Gordimer that everyone's life is a journey to the self, consciously or otherwise? Is anyone else in the book making the same journey?
None to Accompany Me
- Publication Date: October 1, 1995
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
- ISBN-10: 0140250395
- ISBN-13: 9780140250398