The Cure for Grief

A Novel

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About The Book

Ruby is the youngest child in the tightly knit Bronstein family, a sensitive, observant girl who looks up to her older brothers and is in awe of her stern but gentle father, a Holocaust survivor whose past and deep sense of morality inform the family's life. But when Ruby is ten, her eldest brother enters the hospital and emerges as someone she barely recognizes. It is only the first in a startling series of tragedies that befall the Bronsteins and leave Ruby reeling from sorrow and disbelief.

This disarmingly intimate and candid novel follows Ruby through a coming-of-age marked by excruciating loss, one in which the thrills, confusion, and longing of adolescence are heightened by the devastating events that accompany them. As Ruby's family fractures, she finds solace in friendships and the beginnings of romance, in the normalcy of summer camp and the prom. But her anger and heartache shadow these experiences, separating her from those she loves, until she chooses to reconcile what she has lost with whom she has become.

Nellie Hermann's insightful debut is a heartbreakingly authentic story of the enduring potential for resilience and the love that binds a family.

Reading Group Guide

Group Discussion
1. In the opening scene, after Ruby violently pushes her brother Aaron, she reflects, "this is helplessness, this is guilt, this is fear. This is the true impetus for change." What is your reaction to this statement? Is it a valid observation in the context of the novel? Do you agree or disagree in general that these feelings motivate people to change?
2. Discuss Ruby's relationship with each of her three brothers. Do you think Ruby would rather be "one of the boys" or is she more interested in carving out her own role in the family? Do you think Ruby is a good sister?
3. Josef Bronstein's past is described as "an envelope, tightly sealed, that [Ruby] carried but could not open." Is Ruby able to unlock her father's mysteries or does he remain unknowable to her? Does this metaphor resonate with you at all? If not, try to come up with another metaphor that creatively and accurately describes how a parent's past relates to you.
4. How do the Bronsteins deal with challenging situations and tragedy? In your view, do they remain strong and cohesive or in danger of splintering? Who is the most expressive member of the family? Who is the most honest? Who is the most compassionate?
5. Josef Bronstein lives by the maxim, "Life is the highest good... Whenever possible, choose life." What does this phrase mean, coming from a Holocaust survivor? What relevance does it have to a family that is forced to endure so much death? What does it mean to Ruby at the end of the novel?
6. On her trip to Czechoslovakia, Ruby grapples with questions of faith and cultural identity, such as "What does she know about anti-Semitism?" and "What does it mean to be Jewish?" She also confronts the troubling idea that her father no longer believes in God, yet remains faithful to Jewish customs. What do you think is the most important lesson Ruby learned on this trip abroad?
7. What significance does the word "survivor" have in this book? Who is a survivor and who is a casualty?
8. Why do you think Ruby is more comfortable talking to her camp counselor, Michael Fischer, than her friend Tim or any of her other friends?
9. In the final scene, Ruby insists that what has happened to her family is "not okay." What do you think of this outburst of emotion from Ruby? Is she justified in her anger?
10. How do members of the family respond to the disturbed and unpredictable Abe? Do you see any change in Ruby's feelings towards her brother by the end of the book?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Try one of the Bronstein family favorite dishes. Look up a recipe for palacinky, or Slovak crepes. Or be adventurous and try noodles, nuts, and sugar!
2. Look up more information on the concentration camp Terezin, where Josef Bronstein was a prisoner, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terezin
3. Visit the website of the North American Brain Tumor Coalition to learn more about glioblastoma, the variety of brain tumor that Josef and Nathan Bronstein both suffered from, and read about the most recent news in brain tumor research. http://www.nabraintumor.org/index.php

About The Author

Photograph courtesy of the author

Nellie Hermann is a native of Boston, Massachusetts, and a graduate of Brown University and the MFA program at Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (July 2009)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416568247

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Raves and Reviews

"The Cure for Grief is a searingly beautiful, stunning debut, saturated in the lyricism of loss and mourning yet rooted in the everyday. The book's sadness is irradiated by a wild hope as the characters take their places among the living; we are drawn in by the force of their sorrow but elevated by their rich and complex attachments to each other, the past, the future, and their own inner lives." -- Mary Gordon, author of Circling My Mother

"Written in measured, splendid prose, Nellie Hermann's debut novel is a courageous gift to readers. Far more than a coming-of-age story, The Cure for Grief is both vivid in its immediacy and poignant in its timelessness." -- Howard Norman, author of Devotion

"The Cure for Grief is a profound and thrilling achievement -- an exemplar of the reason books should be written and read. Nellie Hermann is wise beyond her years, though to say this is to miss the point -- that all great artists float beyond age and outside of time. The Cure for Grief is a coming-of-age story that reaches far beyond its subject; it shimmers with clarity and grace, fulfilling the deepest of literature's promises -- drawing us into a riveting world, punching us with emotion, revealing the most secret truths of the soul. Her vision is that of the seer, whose illuminating beam might help the reader learn how better to live." -- Shira Nayman, author of Awake in the Dark

"Stunning. A subtle, elegiac coming-of-age novel about catastrophe, grief and the persistence of everyday life. A gorgeously readable meditation on mourning and survival. Hermann is a young author to watch." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

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