Reading Questions for Secrets in the Fire
1. The novel starts with confusion and questions. Why has the author chosen to do this?
2. On p.12, there are a number of similes and metaphors. Find two of each. Why might the author have used these?
3. Explain Muazena’s analogy on p.15
4. Summarise the events experienced by Sofia in this chapter.
5. Sofia has some particularly traumatic experiences. Predict how she might react to them.
6. Why are Sophia and Maria so keen to go to school? What does it reveal about Sophia’s character so early in the novel?
7. The language in this novel is a little different to many other novels that you may read. Describe it and discuss the effects of Mankell’s language choices.
8. Is Sofia right when she says that her promise to Maia about the dress is “more important”?
9. How can Sofia’s theft of Jose-Maria’s sheet possibly be justified?
10. Henning Mankell has used a series of similes and metaphors to try to express Sofia’s pain. Identify three and explain why they have been used.
11. Jose-Maria and Doctor Raul are two important characters for Sofia. Explain their reactions to the explosion. How do they seek to help?
12. How does Sofia show her strength?
13. At the end of chapter 6 and the start of chapter 7, Sofia is abandoned at the old people’s home. How does the language style change here to convey how she is feeling?
14. List and describe some of the awful conditions she has to face. What do you think is that worst thing that she loses?
15. What event triggers Sofia’s memory of the landmine? What is her reaction to these memories? How does affect Sofia?
16. What do we learn about the secrets in the fire in this chapter? How does this idea provide some comfort for Sofia?
17. Explain how mental pain can sometimes be worse than physical pain for Sofia.
18. Why does Sofia realize that “she wouldn’t be able to stay” (121)? What do her next actions reveal about her personality?
19. At the start of the chapter, Sofia is hopeful that “her long loneliness” is over. What does she learn about companionship from Lydia?
20. Explain what convinces Doctor Raul to help Sofia.
21. What happens when Doctor Raul speaks to Sulemane? Why do you think a man like Doctor Raul might seek advice from him?
22. How does Mankell portray Fatima? What details does the author include to help the reader like Fatima?
23. Explain why Totio’s offer is so important for Sofia.
24. Why is it so momentous that Sofia is finally able to visit Maria’s grave? What might this symbolize?
25. It is sewing that provides Sofia with her final comfort. Explain the symbolism of Fabiao bringing the white fabric.