This reading group guide for A Hidden Affair includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Pam Jenoff. 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.
Former intelligence officer Jordan Weiss has embarked on the most important mission of her life: to locate a man she believed died ten years ago. Still reeling from the betrayal of her colleagues at the State Department and the revelation that her college boyfriend, Jared, is alive, she sets out on her own to find him.
Jordan’s search begins on the French Riviera, where she encounters a mysterious woman, Nicole, who has a connection to Jared. When Nicole flees, Jordan follows her across Europe—and she’s not alone in her pursuit. She joins forces with Aaron Bruck, an Israeli operative with a haunting past, who is chasing Nicole for cryptic reasons of his own.
As Jordan gets closer to finding Jared and the answers that have eluded her for a decade, she is faced with challenging new questions. How can she reconcile her growing attraction toward Aaron with her unresolved feelings for Jared? And will the truth about the past prove too devastating to handle, or will it finally set her free?
1. What compels Jordan to resign her position with the State Department and set out on her own to search for Jared? What are her main reasons for wanting to find him?
2. “The fact that Jared is alive means that the past ten years of my life, every thought I had and decision I made, was predicated upon a flawed assumption” (pg 22), says Jordan. In what ways did her belief that Jared was dead affect her life and the choices she made, both personally and professionally?
3. Jordan initially dislikes Aaron, finding him “dismissive and condescending” (pg 39). When does she begin to feel differently about him? What conflicts develop between them, and are they things that can be overcome? Is the fact that they’re both intelligence operatives an advantage or a detriment in their romantic relationship?
4. Why is Jordan even more determined to find Jared after she finds out that he’s married to Nicole? Why does Nicole encourage Jordan to go see Jared alone after their confrontation on the dock?
5. Jordan and Jared were college sweethearts, together for less than three months before his presumed death. Would their relationship have withstood the test of time? Why or why not? Who is the better romantic partner for Jordan, Jared or Aaron?
6. Discuss the historical and political aspects of the novel, including how wine was used during World War II. Regarding Jordan and Ari’s difference of opinion about Israel, which one do you think presents the stronger argument?
7. “[Jared] has the life that I do not, that I could not have while I was eternally grieving for him. I feel angry and foolish at the same time” (pg 225), admits Jordan. Why was she unable to get past Jared’s “death,” while he moved on with his life? Discuss whether or not you think Jared was justified in faking his own death.
8. Discuss Jordan’s reunion with Jared. How is it different than what she had imagined? Ultimately, what realizations does Jordan come to about herself and Jared? Does she find the closure she was seeking? Why or why not?
9. When Jordan finds out that Noah has been kidnapped, she offers to help rescue him. Why does she put her life at risk to save Jared and Nicole’s son?
10. How compelling did you find the suspense aspect of the storyline? Were you able to predict any plot turns, or did the author keep you guessing until the end?
11. Have you read Almost Home, the prequel to A Hidden Affair? If so, what are your thoughts on the continuation of Jordan’s story? If not, share whether or not you’re now interested in reading Almost Home.
Enhance Your Book Club
Wine features prominently in the storyline of A Hidden Affair. Discuss the novel over a bottle of your favorite vintage, hold your meeting at a wine bar, or take a tour of a local vineyard.
At one point in the story Jordan and Aaron discuss the meanings of their names. Do the same for each book club member by visiting www.behindthename.com.
Along with A Hidden Affair, read and discuss Almost Home, the first novel featuring Jordan Weiss.
Visit www.pamjenoff.com to learn more about the author and her books.
A Conversation with Pam Jenoff
Q: A pivotal aspect of the plot is the use of wine during World War II. How did you discover this fascinating fact? What sort of historical research did you do for the novel?
A: I knew that I wanted the book to have a World War II back story, and some of the possible angles I considered, like Nazi gold, seemed to have been covered a lot previously in other books. I found an article on wine counterfeiting which got me started thinking about using wine generally, and then I found a fascinating book, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure, which provided lots of historical background which I used as a starting point.
Q: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy feature in the storyline of A Hidden Affair. Are you a fan of Tolkien’s novels? What are some of your favorite books and authors?
A: I adore Tolkien but I wasn’t introduced to his work until college, when someone read me the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy aloud, and I took a course on the writings of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Some of my favorite authors presently include Tracy Chevalier, Anita Shreve, Barbara Kingsolver, Laura Lipman, and Kate Atkinson.
Q: “Despite the advances that women have made in the profession, it’s still not as easy for a female diplomat to find a partner who is willing to forgo his own career to follow her around the world as it is for her male counterparts,” you write in the novel (pg 179). Having worked for the State Department, as did Jordan, what can you tell us about some of the other challenges that women diplomats face?
A: I think women diplomats have made great strides, but they still face cultural barriers when working in countries where women are perhaps not as readily accepted in the professional world or where women’s roles in society may be more limited. But I didn’t experience these challenges firsthand – my most vexing experience as a female diplomat was once being asked out on a date, only to discover that the person who invited me really wanted to ask for a visa to America!
Q: Jordan talks about a game she played as a child, Spend A Day With Anyone. Which person would you choose to spend the day with and what would you discuss?
A: I would collectively choose my grandparents because three of the four passed away when I was very young and I didn’t get to have the time with them that I would have liked. (Seeing my son spend a ton of time with his grandparents is one of the great joys of my life.)
Q: You were a graduate student at Cambridge University, a place that is significant to Jordan. What personal connections, if any, do you have to the settings in A Hidden Affair, such as Monaco, Vienna, and the Greek Islands?
A: Though I’ve never lived in the places Jordan visits in A Hidden Affair, I love writing about some of the places I’ve been. For example, I really did visit Monaco while Eurorailing, as Jordan describes, and so her reaction to the place was based partially on my own impressions. I frequently passed through Vienna while living in Eastern Europe and traveling by train to various cities. And I once made an unplanned visit to Trieste while on a solo excursion to Slovenia.
Q: A point of contention between Jordan and Aaron is their difference of opinion about the actions of the Poles during World War II. Did living and working in Poland during your tenure with the State Department inspire you to include this in the book?
A: Yes, definitely. During my years in Poland, I worked extensively on Holocaust related issues and Polish Jewish relations and those experiences, as well as living among Poles for over two years, greatly challenged many of the assumptions I’d had about Poland during World War II. I came back from Poland with a much more positive, nuanced view of the people and history and a sense that nothing was as black and white as I previously perceived. But when speaking to groups in the Untied States, I frequently come across people with more negative opinions (perhaps understandable in light of their personal history or experiences) like Aaron has in the book and they often have trouble understanding my more Jordan-like point of view.
Q: How do you successfully balance your two careers as a novelist and a lawyer? What time management secrets can you share?
A: I decided to get serious about writing a novel following the events of September 11, 2001 and the epiphany that I didn’t necessarily have forever to make my dreams come true. It wasn’t the most ideal time to take on the challenge -- I had started working as an attorney just weeks prior and had a demanding job working sixty hour weeks as an associate at a large law firm, not to mention almost a hundred thousand dollars in student loans to repay. So I devised a plan whereby I would write every morning from 5-7 am. It wasn’t pretty. I was tired and overwhelmed and many days as I dragged myself to the computer I had no idea what I was going to say. But a year later, I had my manuscript.
I’ve used the early morning timeframe to write for many years since. I often say that I’m tired and grumpy, meaning I go to bed early and don’t go out nights much or take on other commitments that interfere with my writing time. I’m no longer at the firm, but I still have the day job teaching law school and growing family commitments, and I still fit in the writing in the hour or two in between. It isn’t always easy or pretty and there are certainly days when I fail, but I always come back to it and that’s what has kept me in this game. I would suggest to others: Figure out when you can carve out that hour or two of writing time a day, then protect it zealously. You must pay yourself first and schedule that time or life’s commitments will run over it.
Q: What do you most enjoy about writing romantic suspense novels? Have you ever considered writing legal thrillers, given that you’re a practicing lawyer?
A: The thing I like about romantic suspense is that there are two stories going on at once, the romantic relationship between the characters and the challenges they face as part of the suspense. Putting those two elements together in a way that works is tremendously challenging and rewarding.
I think it takes me a really long time to process the life experiences that contribute to my work. My experiences in Europe over a decade ago are still the driving force behind my novels. But my legal work, which has been more recent, might someday influence my novels (in fact, the main character in my next book, The Anniversary Clock, happens to be an attorney.)
Q: When you began writing A Hidden Affair, did you know how the story would end for Jordan or did her path unfold during the writing process?
A: It unfurled as I wrote. I generally have some idea where I want the book to go, but I’m always surprised where it ultimately winds up and the twists and turns it takes along the way.
Q: What are you working on now? Will there be any future adventures for Jordan?
A: I’m wrapping up a novel called The Anniversary Clock. It’s the story of Charlotte, an attorney, who along with her ex-boyfriend’s brother Jack, gets pulled into defending an accused Nazi collaborator. The key to his guilt or innocence lies with an antique timepiece (we see the clock at various points throughout its history in twentieth century Europe) and Charlotte and Jack race to find the clock while confronting their feelings for one another. But as for another adventure for Jordan, never say never - a British newspaper recently described A Hidden Affair as the second book in a trilogy and that really got me thinking…