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The Choice

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Choice includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

    Introduction

    The Choice is a powerful, moving memoir—and a practical guide to healing—written by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, an eminent psychologist whose own experiences as a Holocaust survivor help her treat patients and guide them toward freedom from trauma, grief, and fear. One of the few living Holocaust survivors to remember the horrors of the camps, Edie has chosen to forgive her captors and find joy in her life every day. The Choice weaves Eger’s personal story with case studies from her work as a psychologist. Her patients and their stories illustrate different phases of healing and show how people can choose to escape the prisons they construct in their minds and find freedom, regardless of circumstance. Eger’s story is an inspiration for everyone.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. Dr. Eger defines trauma as “a nearly constant feeling in my gut that something is wrong, or that something terrible is about to happen, the automatic fear responses in my body telling me to run away, to take cover, to hide myself from the danger that is everywhere” (pages 5–6). After reading Dr. Eger’s memoir, do you find this to be an accurate, complete definition? Why or why not? If not, how would you define trauma?

    2. In the beginning of the book, Dr. Eger asserts that there is no hierarchy of suffering, a statement she maintains after sharing her story of barely surviving the Holocaust. Do you agree? How does Dr. Eger demonstrate this belief throughout the book? How does she put her own suffering on the same level as that of her patients?

    3. On page 18, Dr. Eger writes, “Maybe every childhood is the terrain on which we try to pinpoint how much we matter and how much we don’t, a map where we study the dimensions and the borders of our worth.” How does Dr. Eger’s childhood exemplify this statement? How does your own childhood prove or disprove this statement?

    4. Before being taken from her home and imprisoned in an internment camp, Dr. Eger entrusted a beloved photograph of herself to a friend. She said she had no premonition of what was to come, but felt a need to preserve evidence of her life. How important do you think that photograph was in Dr. Eger’s healing process? In what ways do you preserve evidence of your life?

    5. After arriving at Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele forces Dr. Eger to dance for him to “The Blue Danube.” Discuss the power and residual effect of this moment on Edie’s life.

    6. Several times throughout the book, Dr. Eger offers instances in which SS officers were kind to her and helped save her life—notably on pages 49 and 57. Why do you think she shares these positive glimpses of generally cruel treatment? How do they shape your understanding of her experience in the camps?

    7. So often when we learn about the Holocaust—in fiction, nonfiction, movies, museums—the focus is on the horrors of the internment camps. Rarely do we hear about the aftermath as ravaged families and traumatized victims tried to rebuild their lives in a climate that remained anti-Semitic and hostile, even in America. What did you learn from Dr. Eger’s memories of life after liberation? What was surprising to you?

    8. How does Dr. Eger’s relationship with Eric compare to her relationship with Béla? How was each relationship uniquely essential for her survival? What needs did each relationship fulfill?

    9. What roles do fear and shame play in Dr. Eger’s life, both past and present? How does she describe the constant presence of shame and fear? How do these emotions contour her life after liberation? As a psychologist, how does Dr. Eger recommend dealing with fear? With shame?

    10. Why do you think Dr. Eger feels she is protecting her children by hiding her past from them? What might you have done in her situation?

    11. On page 135, Dr. Eger writes that she objects to classifying post-traumatic stress as a disorder. She says, “It’s not a disordered reaction to trauma—it’s a common and natural one.” Do you agree? Does that change the way in which you view people suffering from PTSD?

    12. What do you make of the casual way in which Béla would often reference the war and his wife’s standing as a survivor? Why do you think he is able to be more cavalier about their past?

    13. Discuss the concept of “learned helplessness,” which Dr. Eger describes on page 170. Where do you see learned helplessness in the book and in the world around you?

    14. Dr. Eger describes her education and training as a psychologist and her work with patients. How does her education and work in healing others help her with her own steps to healing?

    15. In the second half of the book, Dr. Eger offers anecdotes from different patients with whom she has worked. Discuss the various patients’ stories—the young girl struggling with anorexia, the man struggling with severe rage after his wife cheats on him, the couple seeking therapy to deal with a drinking problem, the woman traumatized by rape—and the lessons each has to offer.

    16. The Choice is full of powerful and profound moments of healing, for example when Dr. Eger stands outside Hitler’s home and yells that she has chosen to forgive him, or when she chooses to forgive herself for inadvertently sending her mother to the gas chambers by identifying her as “mother,” not “sister.” These choices have enabled her to move forward and help others. Which moments resonated most with you?

    17. Throughout the book, Dr. Eger provides a wealth of sage advice. What was most helpful to you, personally?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Watch The Red Shoes, the movie that greatly impacted Dr. Eger after she and Béla saw the film in 1950. Did watching the movie help you understand Dr. Eger’s reaction to the film as well as her connection to dance?

    2. Read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Compare and contrast his testimony and his theories about human freedom and choice with Dr. Eger’s.

    3. Compare Dr. Eger’s memories of the Holocaust with widely read accounts such as Elie Wiesel’s Night or Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

    4. When meeting with your book club, ask everyone to prepare a traditional Hungarian dish like the meals Dr. Eger describes in The Choice. Enjoy the taste of Dr. Eger’s homeland as you learn more about its past.

About the Author

Edith Eva Eger
Jordan Engle

Edith Eva Eger

An eminent psychologist and one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors old enough to remember life in the camps, Dr. Edith Eger has worked with veterans, military personnel, and victims of physical and mental trauma. She lives in La Jolla. The Choice is her first book.

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