Topics & Questions for Discussion
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1. The book opens with a beautiful, lyrical sentence before introducing Stella. What do you think of the author’s writing style★ In what ways did the author relay Stella’s story on paper, keeping it thoroughly her own, while crafting his own beautiful sentences, paragraphs, and reflections★
2. Reflections specifically on the time in the camps consume a confined portion of the book (and, so, also of Michael’s visits with Stella). Why do you think it was so important to preface the story of Stella’s time in the camps by first establishing what life felt and looked (and smelled, tasted, and sounded) like in the Juderia, as the neighborhood where Stella grew up was known★
3. Stella is hesitant for a long time to share stories of her time in the camps with Michael. Why do you think she finally decides to open up (even if she makes Michael wait and listen to her explain it in her own order)★
4. Stella’s sister Renée undergoes a significant transformation in body and character as a result of her time in the camps. Early in the book (page 14), Renée is described as “hesitant and delicate,” though Stella later reflects that she’s “‘not sure whether Renée was born delicate or whether my mother simply treated her that way and so that’s what she became.’” Toward the end of their time in the camps, when Stella and Renée are forced to walk from a nameless satellite camp to Allach, another satellite camp of Dachau, Stella is ill and ready to give in to death. It is Renée, miraculously recovered from her asthma upon arrival to the camps, who holds Stella up and pushes her along the path. Stella, too, frequently recalls her “past self,” left behind during the war. Have you or someone you know ever experienced an unexpected, perhaps even miraculous transformation as the result of significant life events★ What do you think of our tendency to assume that one’s physical and emotional dispositions are unlikely to change a great deal during the course of our lives★
5. The power of language—or different languages and the worlds they open up to you—is a major theme in this book and in Stella’s life. Has language impacted you in a significant way that has changed your life or perhaps even saved your life★
6. In sharing her story with Michael and with us, Stella has preserved the Juderia—the place itself, the people, and the ways. Take a moment to consider the significance of this—what would happen to the history and culture of the Juderia, had Stella not shared her acute memories of this lost world★ Have you or anyone in your family come from a world that has disappeared or so dramatically altered that it is no longer recognizable★ What does it mean to try to preserve a place that has changed, or vanished, in this way★
7. There are several memoirs and books about Holocaust survivors. Stella references these early on as contributing to her hesitation to share. How do you feel Stella’s story may differ from or compare to other survivor stories★
8. Before going to the camps, Stella has multiple men in her life who are “more than friends.” She appreciates each of them for separate qualities. What do you think of Stella’s feelings about marriage, friendship, and the general importance of human connection★ Enhance Your Book Club
1. Have each of you interview a family member or friend—just asking a short set of questions regarding their lives and family history. After you collect their answers, write them down and share them with each other. After reading each other’s brief interviews, take time to reflect together on the power of oral histories and the value of participating in the preservation of story.
2. Consider how you may have changed throughout your life. Write down and name different versions of yourself that have been present as a result of your circumstances. Have fun with this! You can be as creative as you like—if you want, you can even make a visual representation of your different selves. If you are comfortable, consider sharing with the group what this exercise meant to you.
3. Take a group trip to a local museum or significant cultural spot (this could be a place of religious organization or even a family-owned restaurant, a library, or a shop). Enjoy looking around and experiencing the essence of a culture and a history passed indirectly through displays, foods, architecture, or something else.