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Not for Everyday Use


A riveting memoir in which Nunez comes to grips with her mother’s passing and her parents’ ambition for their children.

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Discussion Guide for Not for Everyday Use

1. Elizabeth says that as a novelist she relies on her imagination to arrive at essential truths about life.  What does she mean?

2. What opportunities for truth-telling does fiction provide?  In what ways can memoir hamper truth-telling?

3. Elizabeth speaks of her mother’s fear of disobeying the Catholic Church’s prohibition of birth control.  What were the consequences of her mother’s decision?  Did her mother have other options?

4. Why, in spite of the problems in her marriage, did Elizabeth find it so difficult to divorce her husband?

5. Elizabeth has achieved a measure of success in America, and yet she speaks of the losses she suffers as a consequence of leaving her homeland.  What are those losses?

6. In describing the qualities of “outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, claims that “individual merit” is not sufficient.  Outliers, he says, succeed because they are given “a special opportunity.” What does Elizabeth say about the chances for young blacks to get the special opportunity that, say, a Steve Jobs had?

7. How did attitudes toward race and class in Trinidad affect this family?  Do these attitudes still exist in the Caribbean today?

8. Elizabeth claims that whites in America, even new arrivals, continue to profit from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Is this true?

9. F— ends his relationship with Elizabeth, because, according to Elizabeth, as a black woman she was a liability for a white lawyer with ambitions to climb to the top of the legal profession. Do young people in interracial relationships face similar challenges today?

10. What is the significance of the title of this memoir, Not for Everyday Use?

11. The front cover photograph of Elizabeth’s parents was taken during the early years of their marriage, and the back cover photograph at the celebration of their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. Why do you think this marriage lasted so long?

12. How did Elizabeth’s mother deal with her husband’s decreasing cognitive skills?

13. Infidelity is often cited as the main reason for divorce. Should Elizabeth’s parents have gotten a divorce?  What was lost and what was gained by remaining in their marriage?

14. Elizabeth writes that years of colonialism and slavery left her and the people on her island “unsure of our identity, doubting the value of our culture, the relevance of our history.”  How did Elizabeth overcome these obstacles?

15. What was the result of the “sterner stuff” Elizabeth’s parents applied to their children?  Did it work?