Book Club Discussion Questions

Answered By The Historical Fiction Author Jacob Singer



Our Book Club discussion questions center around the controversial Historical Fiction novel "The Vase With The Many Coloured Marbles."  South African born Jacob Singer books his seat for an “Interview With An Author” and opens up on a topic others would love to brush under the carpet.

The book is a story about the fight against apartheid in South Africa outlining the horror of apartheid, practiced in the world today by countries that suppress the rights of its people based on the color of their skin; the religion they practice and believe in, and their sexuality, where women are regarded as second class citizens with no rights. Before we lead this book club discussion questions article, we set the scene with Jacob’s book summary.

The Vase with the Many Coloured Marbles is a story is about a young girl, Emily Kleintjies, born into the apartheid system of South Africa. Emily was classified by the South African race laws of that time as being a Coloured. In the 19th Century, the Coloured people of South Africa had similar rights to the Whites in the Cape Colony, though income and property qualifications affected them disproportionately. In the rest of South Africa, they had far fewer rights, and although the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 gave them the right to vote, they were restricted to electing White representatives only.

“You must understand, Emily,” her father mumbled, “as part of the Coloured Community in South Africa, today we are classified as second class citizens by the government.”

“What does that mean?” Emily asked, not quite understanding what he was saying. “You have grown up in District Six, amongst both Blacks and Whites, and you have been treated as equals by them. South Africa as a whole does not treat us as equals. The Whites come first, we the Coloureds with the Indians second, and the Blacks are at the bottom with the Coolies and Chinese somewhere in-between. When you go into Cape Town proper, you have seen benches marked, ‘For Whites Only.’ We as Coloureds are not allowed to sit on those benches.”

“But I have often sat on them, and no-one has bothered me,” Emily interrupted. “I know,” her father answered, “that is because you were born with a lighter skin than any of us, and with hair that is light brown, long and straight. No White would think you were a Coloured. I know of many in our community who are angry at these laws, where the Whites squeeze us from the top, while the Blacks squeeze us from the bottom. We have to take cheap work, because the Whites do not believe that we are as clever as they are. They treat us like slaves, while many of our women are treated like whores at night, and our children age and die long before they should.”

 One afternoon, as Emily walked through the city, she found that the wind was blowing hard off Devil’s Peak. With the winter rain that started, she was soon chilled to the bone. She looked around her at the comfort of the Whites as they sat eating, drinking and laughing in the numerous restaurants.

She was so cold. Hiding her nervousness she boldly walked into one of the restaurants and sat down at a table. After reading the menu, looking carefully at the prices charged, she ordered something to eat. In the past, she would never have thought of visiting these establishments, but now she was rebelling.

When she had finished eating, she remained sitting at the table, admiring the view overlooking the harbor. ‘This is what we are missing’ she thought. ‘I could never bring my parents, brothers or sisters here. The only way they could come into this place would be as servants, working in the kitchen.’ She came to a decision. ‘I must become a White, not an Afrikaner White, but an English White. I don’t want to be an Afrikaner White because they hate us Coloureds.

This story is about how Emily changed her name to Emma Kline. This is Emma’s story, how she crosses the color barrier, and how she enters the white community, but not in Cape Town where she was born, but in Johannesburg. She meets a young man who is a White, and has a baby with him. He is killed in WWII, leaving her with a daughter, Marla. She becomes determined that Marla will grow up a White, and never know of her Coloured background.

Our Book Club Discussion Questions For This Interview Starts Here

The Book Club Discussion Questions 1….I was intrigued to read more after digesting the summary and can only imagine what research must have gone into formulating this book. What has been your readers reaction firstly towards the story and secondly towards the subject matter?

JACOB: good question; I have had numerous emails from readers who told me that they absolutely loved the read. They enjoyed the story, which is about 86% based on truth. We had readers ask me many questions, but I refused to answer a number, especially on the subject of whether the characters in the book are based on real people. Many readers tell me that they wish the South African leaders would read the book, and so realize how they are failing the country today.

The Book Club Discussion Questions 2.. Being a black man growing up in the UK I can remember my own little struggles in a changing society, but can only imagine life in South Africa in 1910. Can you share a little taster of Emma’s struggle raising her daughter not to know her Coloured background?

JACOB: Emma was lucky. On the train going to Johannesburg, she befriended a lady who found her a job. Because she was introduced by this friend, the employer assumed she was a WHITE, and employed her as a White. She fell in love with, Eric O'Neil, a White man, but refused to marry him because she never had a birth certificate. She never told him this. However, on the night before he went to war in North Africa, in 1941, out of her love for him, they made love, and she forgot to protect herself. 

She simply never told her daughter about her grandparents in Cape Town. Marla accepted Charlie and Christa Stuart who live in Potchefstroom as her grandparents. They were parents of a friend Emma had made. Charlie, originally from Scotland, was a man who fought the apartheid system in South Africa. When he found out that Emma was a Coloured, he helped her and Marla in every way possible.

The Book Club Discussion Questions 3.. As the author, what did you learn when writing this book?

JACOB: Reliving past memories was painful. The book had to be written; Emma’s story had to be told. The horror of apartheid must be fully explained to the world as a form of Nazism. Any country that discriminates against its citizens in any way, are practicing apartheid, even if it is religious.

The Book Club Discussion Questions 4..What do you hope your readers take away from reading this story?

JOCOB: To learn about how we lived in South Africa during the era of racial discrimination. To also learn that it will take three generations of westernized education before the Africans will govern the country properly. The apartheid regime deliberately undereducated the African and any race that was not White, to keep them as servants. Those ruling South Africa today were not properly educated, and still practice tribal laws. As I once said when I overheard an African American joyfully shout when he watch the Dance of the Maidens in Swaziland. These are my people. I told him, the only thing you have in common with them is the colour of your skin and your curly hair.


Regards Jacob.

Psymon H. I would like to thank Jacob for a truly eye opening book club discussion questions  interview and wish him the very best with this and future book projects. If you would like to purchase this book , please scroll to the top right hand of this page. If you've read this title and want to leave your thoughts or you have a question you wish to ask the author, please leave them in the comments area below.

Thank you for taking the time to read this "Interview With An Author."

Authors, there are many ways to get the word out....This Is One! Click the image on the lower right hand side of this page to book your interview spot.

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