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Todos Santos

Readers' Guide—Discussion Questions

Todos Santos

  1. The novel's title means "All Saints." Catherine wonders if the town's inhabitants pray to Christian saints or to "older, darker gods." Do they? What roles do religion, shamanism, and superstition play in the lives of the Guatemalans in the book? What are Catherine's and Isaac's attitudes toward the beliefs they encounter, and how do those attitudes change?

  2. The novel begins with Catherine and Isaac arriving in Guatemala, a place where they are outsiders. What is the role of setting in the novel? Do you think Catherine and Isaac would have made different choices if they had stayed home in Iowa that summer? Nicolasa tells Catherine she wants to leave Guatemala; Catherine urges her to stay. Why? What do you think people who are born into poor and violent countries can do to improve their lives?

  3. The story is told largely through two points of view—Catherine's and Isaac's. How does this structure serve the novel? How does Isaac see the world differently than his mother? When Catherine finds out that Isaac has been kidnapped, she accuses herself of being a bad mother. Is she? Is Zelda a poor choice of guardian?

  4. Isaac blames himself for Bernie's accident. Was it his fault? Does he redeem himself? Should Catherine have been angry at him when she finds out he helped engineer his own kidnapping?

  5. Discuss how the theme of good vs. evil repeats throughout the book. Baudilio stirs up the populace and attacks Catherine. Is he evil? Are the people who attack the Japanese tourists? Is the society that jails the young mother because she inadvertently started the riot? Is Carlos really a kidnapper? Or just an opportunist who was sincere in his desire to help Isaac?

  6. How is nature used as a metaphor? What effects do the high altitude of Todos Santos and the sea level heat of Livingston have on the characters? Guatemala calls itself "the land of eternal springtime." Would you agree?

  7. What effect does Catherine's affair with Oswaldo have on her marriage? Compare Catherine's relationship with Oswaldo to what you know of her relationship with Elliot. Did she make the right decision in the end of the novel? What do you think the future holds for these characters? Will Catherine end up with Oswaldo?

  8. On p. 46, Rolfe tells Catherine that everyone there believes in the power of the pulsera, and that if she stays long enough, she will, too. Do all the characters believe in superstitions? Does Nicolasa? Does Oswaldo? Why does Isaac ask the shaman if he'll ever get home? How could Don Jerónimo have known about Bernie's accident? Did Catherine really meet the Llorona?

  9. Catherine is an artist, which means she is an observer. How does this shape her character? Is she a passive observer? How does her character change through her experiences in Todos Santos?

  10. Even though Zelda is Elliot's sister, she seems to be encouraging Catherine to break free of him. Why would she do that? Is she being disloyal to her brother?

  11. What are the effects of history and racism on contemporary Guatemalans? What has the relationship been between the Spanish conquerors and the Mayans? Does it seem to be changing? What were the aftereffects of the civil war that reached its height of violence in the 1980s? At the funeral for the victims of the lynching, Catherine sees the villagers mourning "together, in a collective, as they had attacked the day before." In what ways is the culture she finds in Todos Santos different from American culture? In what ways the same? What relevance does Guatemala have for Americans?