For Book Clubs

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Questions for The Wanting

(scroll down for questions for Not Me)
  1. Why does the author place the action in three distinct locations – Israel, The Territories, and Moscow? What impact did that have on you as readers?  Likewise, the action takes place in different time periods, none of them present – how did that impact your understanding of the story?
  2. One of the central themes of the novel is the search for, or the defense of, home.  How does this theme play out for each of the characters?  What does it mean to them, and to you, to have a “home,” and why is it so difficult to achieve?
  3. What other themes do you recognize in the novel?
  4. The book opens when a suicide bomber kills scores of people outside Roman Guttman’s office. Why do you think the bombing is only reported, and not actually witnessed in the novel?  What do you make of the head floating past Guttman’s window?
  5. What role does God play in the novel?  Is He a character?  A figment of the imagination?  An ironic presence?  A true force?
  6. How did you feel about Amir and did it change throughout the book?  What did you take from the fact that Amir is an artist in the making? What do you think really drives Amir to commit such a destructive act?  Can you imagine yourself or anyone you know driven to such an end?
  7. How was Anyusha, the daughter, impacted by the bombing?  Given that she was already under the influence of Rabbi Keren and Miriam, do you think she would have gone down the same path if the bombing had never happened?  How did you perceive to her involvement in the “Second Temple” movement?
  8. Anyusha hears a multitude of confusing voices – but in the end hears only one voice.  What are these voices?  What are they trying to tell her?  Why does she want them to disappear?  How do they shape her?
  9. Collette has ethical choices to make regarding her unborn daughter.  What were your feelings about Collette?  Did she make the right decisions in difficult circumstances or not? Which is more important: one’s family or ones ideals?
  10.  Another theme in the book is that of the “absent parent” – the chasm between mother and daughter, father and son, which exists for Amir, Roman, and especially Anyusha, who experiences her mother’s physical absence and her father’s spiritual emptiness. Do you think it is possible to recapture what is lost in such cases? Are there positive aspects to such a quest?
  11. Various ideologies play an important role in the novel: Communism, Zionism, Islamic fundamentalism, Palestinian nationalism.  In what ways are the characters affected by their ideologies?  In what ways do these ideologies ennoble the human spirit and in what ways do they crush the human spirit?
  12. The author draws a vivid picture of life in the Soviet Union, including a trial scene and a description of prison.  What are your memories or associations with this period, and do you see any connection to the present?  Is it possible to escape our pasts or are we doomed to act them out over and over?
  13. Does the author take a position on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?  If so, what do you think it is?  If not, why not, and how does it make you feel about the book?
  14. The author employs various genres within the novel: the play form, stories within stories, a short fairy tale, talking animals and the like.  Why do you think he does this, and what was the impact on you, the reader?

Questions for Not Me

  1. Memory, or false memory, plays an important part in this story. What is the nature of memory? How are we fooled by it? How does it help us?
  2. What traps and opportunities does memory create for Michael and for the people around him?
  3. There is immense controversy about the State of Israel, even so far as its legitimacy as a state. Does it have a right to exist? What are the advantages and pitfalls of a nation created along religious or racial lines?
  4. Do you think the outlines of Heshel’s story as they intersect with history are accurate representations of events? If so, what is to be learned from that struggle?
  5. What kind of person is Heinrich? Have you met people you feel could fit that role? Could you be such a person?
  6. What feelings are aroused in you by the descriptions of the concentration camps and Heinrich/Heshel’s role in the murder of thousands?
  7. Why do you think the author opted to make Heinrich a bookkeeper as opposed to guard or a storm trooper?
  8. Hannah Arendt created the phrase “the banality of evil,” referring to Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi death camp system. Does Heinrich fit that description? What is the nature of evil?
  9. Is it really possible for a person to change so dramatically? Is it plausible that someone like Heinrich could find salvation in embodying the nature of his enemy? What is the power of empathy? Experience? Will?
  10. What is the role of God in this novel?
  11. Every family has secrets. What are the effects of family secrets and how do they affect one’s life? What happens when they are uncovered?
  12. Why do we lie to ourselves and others? What is the secret knowledge we all carry with us?
  13. Part of the plot structure of this novel is in the form of a mystery or detective story. Why?
  14. Is guilt what drives Heshel Rosenheim? If so what is the true nature of that guilt? If not, what is it that drives him?
  15. Is guilt itself a conduit to redemption?
  16. If Heshel Rosenheim is indeed Heinrich Mueller, can he be forgiven? What is the role of good works in the balance sheet of redemption?
  17. Michael’s relationship with his sister is unique within the novel for its purity and wholesomeness — yet it is this relationship which pushes Michael to commit a terrible crime, and become, in essence, like the man in the journals. What are the moral implications of causing destruction in the name of love? How can we distinguish, not as observers after the fact, but as actors in the heat of the moment, between right and wrong, especially in the context of strong emotional, philosophical, or historical forces?
  18. The relationships between fathers and sons in this novel are ambiguous and complex. What powers come into play to disrupt the normal flow between the generations?
  19. Is this disruption, distrust and yearning simply “the way it is?” How is it resolved within the context of the novel? How do you relate as a father, mother, daughter or son, to the issues brought up by these characters?
  20. April Love is a mysterious woman who keeps popping up in the oddest places, including in bed with a man ten years her junior. What does she represent to you? Why did the author bring her into the story?
  21. Do Michael and April get together after the novel concludes?
  22. Discuss the role of place setting in this novel and fiction in general. How, and why, are places “characters,” and how does place effect you personally?
  23. What is the difference between writing and speaking in this novel?