IN THE WILDS of southeastern Africa more than half a million years ago sits the village of Kura, a matriarchal society of Homo erectus. Snap—a young, passionate woman—is destined to lead her people, and this year she must select a mate for the first time. As the Bonding ceremony approaches, Snap’s future remains unknown. Will she choose someone different each year, or will she find one mate she wants to pick over and over again, like her mother, Whistle, the next leader of Kura? But when Whistle’s mate doesn’t return, Whistle chooses a stranger with ideas more dangerous than the lions that kill with a single slash.
Snap challenges the stranger’s growing power one too many times and is brutally cast out to survive on her own or perish. Abandoned and alone, she risks her life—and the future of her people—to stand up against an unthinkable evil. Unknown to her, the same danger threatens other villages as well. Soon, Snap and a new band of outcasts will face a force more terrifying—and deadly—than any of prehistoric Africa’s natural threats.
Both imaginative and believable, Daughter of Kura brings to life an ancient and untamed world. Austin has created an unforgettable heroine who comes of age in a thrilling tale of courage, loyalty, and passion.
1. What are the traditional roles of women in this imagined culture? What is expected of them as daughters, sisters, mates, and mothers? What is expected of the men? How do you feel about these expectations? How are the cultural roles of the sexes in Snap’s world affected by their ignorance of the role of males in reproduction? Compare Bapoto’s plans for changing the traditional role of men in this imagined culture with the actual changes that have occurred in modern women’s roles in the last forty years.
2. On page 5, Snap observes that the stories her people tell are always about change, yet their purpose is the opposite: to preserve tradition, pass on memories, and explain how things happen. Is Snap a traditionalist or a revolutionary? Does she change in the course of the novel? Explain how this apparent contradiction works for the people of Kura. Share a few examples of such stories and traditions from your own life.
3. While life for the characters of Daughter of Kura is one of extreme danger and hardship, there is joy in their lives as well. Where do Chirp, Whistle, and Snap find happiness? Compare and contrast these sources of joy with the ways in which modern women of different cultures find happiness.
4. People tend to regard the values and practices of their own culture as more natural than or superior to the practices of other cultures. What cultural practices are different between Snap’s people and modern societies? For example, how do you feel about differences in mourning and burial practices between Snap’s culture and your own? What other elements of your life might you consider in a new light when compared to those of these early humans? Do you find Snap’s culture more or less natural than your own? Why or why not?
5. When Bapoto first arrives in Kura, he seems genuine in his desire to help. After Snap’s arm wound becomes infected, he offers to perform a healing ritual for her. Chirp refuses his offer, however. What are her reasons for doing so? Do you agree with Chirp’s decision? Why is Bapoto so successful at introducing magical thinking to the Kura?
6. Every fall, the women of Kura and the surrounding villages choose their mates from the transient men. Sometimes the men express their interest first by bringing gifts to the women they hope will choose them. What are the criteria for a good mate? Why does Snap choose Ash? Why does Whistle choose Bapoto?
7. On page 60, Bapoto explains his thoughts on who the Great One is and why she must be appeased with rituals and prayer. How does his perspective differ from the worldview of Kura? What is the significance of this shift in perspective, and what does it mean for the people to accept his beliefs? How do you feel about Granite’s opinion on page 232, that it “never hurts to watch all the burrow holes?”
8. Bapoto successfully introduces ideas of a supernatural being and of life after death to people who have previously understood their world only through their senses. How does he do this? What needs does Bapoto’s Great One fulfill? Does Bapoto’s personality matter?
9. Modern societies have only recently begun to recognize that many, possibly most, rapes are motivated by a need for power over the victim rather than as a result of sexual desire. How is rape perceived in Daughter of Kura compared to later societies? How does Snap’s perception of the attack compare to the perception of Burrow? Of Mzuza? Of Whistle?
10. Why does Snap finally begin to believe in the Great One? Why does she stop? When Granite asks why a benevolent spirit would allow terrible things to happen on page 237, Snap signs to Granite, “Maybe ‘why’ is not the right question.” What do you think this means? Do you agree or disagree?
11. Which character in the story did you most identify with and why? Do you think the challenges these people face are universal and even modern? Explain your opinion.
12. Because Daughter of Kura is set so far in the past, its characters’ lives are based on a little archaeological evidence, some anthropological theories, and quite a bit of speculation. What characteristics of modern humans do you see emerging in Snap’s people? What characteristics of Snap’s people are more like non-human species?
13. The working title of this novel was Signs of Fall. How do you think this title relates to the novel’s themes?
14. What is the relationship between ritual and religious belief? Is it plausible that rituals developed prior to the first religious beliefs? Why or why not?
15. Nudity and public sex are a normal part of Snap’s society. Why do you think human cultures developed the practices of hiding genitals and having sex in private? How long ago?
16. When the Fukizo attack Kura, Snap is shocked. How does the practice of males moving from their natal villages to nearby ones reduce inter-clan violence?
Tips to Enhance Your Book Club
Discuss the benefits and detriments of the traditions surrounding the mating practices of the characters in Daughter of Kura. Compare their traditions to those of marriage practices in your own community. Why might these differences exist? Or, if you see similar patterns, why do you think these patterns are so consistent? Do some reading about ancient and modern marriage practices and, with your book club, analyze the structures, functions, and expectations of marriage in your community as compared to those found in these other cultures. You can start here:
Whistle’s reputation for somehow knowing the best combinations of meats, fruits, and nuts—and others’ attempts to duplicate her meals—is an interpretation of how the earliest “recipes” may have begun. Try testing your own taste instincts by mimicking a hunting and gathering way of shopping: visit your local grocery store and choose a meat, then choose accompanying herbs and vegetables based on what flavors seem right to you. If you want to add edible insects, check out:
No recipes allowed! Roast everything together and see what unique combinations you can invent.
Debra Austin is a former obstetrician who closed her practice to pursue writing full time. In addition to obtaining a degree in physics, she has cultivated a rich, extensive self-taught education in paleo-anthropology. She lives in California with her family.
"The prehistoric past comes vividly to life in this thrilling and boldly imaginative epic of a girl's journey into womanhood. Debra Austin recreates a fascinating world that might have been, and she makes us believe every detail." —Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Keepsake
“An original and fascinating first novel . . . this debut, which offers a fascinating peek into humanity’s earliest days, stands out as well researched and wholly believable.” –Library Journal