From the New York Times bestselling author of Leaving the World comes a tragic love story set in Cold War Berlin.
Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine, in touch only with his daughter and still trying to recover from the end of a long marriage, his solitude is disrupted one wintry morning by the arrival of a box that is postmarked Berlin. The name on the box—Dussmann—unsettles him completely, for it belongs to the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin at a time when the city was cleaved in two and personal and political allegiances were frequently haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.
Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless is forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person and in the process relive those months in Berlin when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann, the woman to whom he lost his heart, was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow that gradually rewrote both their destinies.
A love story of great epic sweep and immense emotional power, The Moment explores why and how we fall in love—and the way we project on to others that which our hearts so desperately seek.
This reading group guide forThe Moment 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.
Thomas Nesbitt is a recently divorced, middle-aged writer who lives a sequestered life in the hills of Maine. His solitude is disrupted by the arrival of a box postmarked from Berlin. The return address on the box—Dussmann—is the name of the woman with whom he had an intense love affair in Berlin during a time when the city was divided and haunted by the shadows of the Cold War. Initially refusing to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless finds himself forced to grapple with his past, and in the process, relive those months in Berlin when two people found love and vowed to escape the tragic landscape of Berlin.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Thomas Nesbitt tells his daughter “the moment…it’s a very over-rated place.” Do you agree with this statement? How does Thomas’s notion of the moment change over the course of the book?
2. Nesbitt concludes that “everyone has a part of themselves they prefer not to reveal.” What part of himself does he choose not to reveal? If Thomas had opened himself up to Jan, do you think their relationship would have been different? How do you think the story would have changed if Petra revealed a certain side of herself to Thomas?
3. Upon his arrival in Berlin, Thomas attends a concert and states, “You only begin to grasp the importance of an event—and its larger implications vis-à-vis your life—long after it has entered into that realm marked ‘memory.’” Discuss this quotation in terms of Thomas’s reflections on his time with Petra. Did Thomas realize what he had only after Petra was gone?
4. How does the time and setting of Thomas and Petra’s love story add to the intensity of their relationship? Do you think the story would have been as powerful if it did not take place at the foot of the Berlin Wall?
5. Betrayal is a key element in The Moment. How are the main characters betrayed by each other? By those around them? When does Thomas realize whom he can actually trust?
6. What is superbia? Where and when does it occur in the book and to whom?
7. What were your initial reactions to how quickly Thomas and Petra’s relationship was progressed? Do you think it was doomed to fail from the start? If Bubriski had never gotten involved, would they still be together?
8. Thomas has been living with the unresolved secret of Petra’s story for almost twenty years. Why did he never tell anyone about her? How does his secret conflict with Alaistair’s notion that Thomas needs “to seek resolutions, tidy endings, in situations that are anything but tidy”? When Thomas finally learns about Petra’s fate does he obtain the “tidy ending” he usually desires? Why or why not?
9. What does snow symbolize in The Moment? Discuss the various scenes where snow is present including at the scene of Thomas’s accident, his crossing back into West Berlin and his final ride back to his cabin.
10. Were you surprised that Thomas had to continually convince himself that his love with Petra was real? Do you agree with his notion “if you write, everything is material. And part of me felt that, by getting it all down…that, yes I had met the love of my life”?
11. Walter Bubriski informs Thomas that Petra is an agent of the Stasi. How does Bubriski’s news shred the psychological wall Thomas had built regarding his love for Petra? Do you think Bubriski knew Petra’s true back story?
12. Explain what Thomas means when he calls his love for Jan “qualified.” Why did Jan opt to stay with Thomas even though she knew he loved someone else?
13. The Moment is three stories told from three different perspectives: Thomas’s in the present day, Thomas’s in the past, and Petra’s. Why do you think the author chose to construct the novel in such a way? What elements do the varying perspectives add to the storyline?
2. Petra had always wanted to visit Paris and finally makes the trip with Robert. Is there any place you wanted to visit and finally did? Share a favorite travel story with your group and bring photos!
3. The Berlin Wall is a major part of the backdrop in The Moment. Do you remember when the Berlin Wall came down? Discuss you memories of this significant event in history. For more information on the Berlin Wall, including its construction, life behind the wall, escape attempts, and its eventual fall, visit www.newseum.org/berlinwall.
Douglas Kennedy is the author of eleven previous novels, including the international bestsellers The Moment and Five Days. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages, and in 2007 he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He divides his time among London, New York, and Montreal, and has two children. Find out more at DouglasKennedyNovelist.com.
“An observant, compassionate, and romantic portrait.” —Publishers Weekly
“Kennedy is astonishing at communicating his characters’ emotional turmoil . . . and he tosses tough ethical questions our way as he ponders the ‘moment’ that could change everything—and the very nature of love.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Kennedy’s narrative virtuosity drives a story that blends romance and thrills in the right proportion. . . . The sense of place is palpable.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The revelation in the middle is the kind of gut-punch that subverts everything its narrator has found out so far—without destabilizing the rich, dark novel in progress.” —The Onion’s A.V. Club
“The denouement will have you feeling about as intense as printed words can make you.” —The Times (UK)
“A passionate love-story-cum-spy-thriller set amid the secrets and shadows of Cold War–era West Berlin.”
“Douglas Kennedy vividly re-creates the tense atmosphere of a Berlin cut into two by the Wall. As the book moves between times and narrators, we too can marvel at the changes that have taken place since reunification – and understand the long-lasting effects of the evils that were perpetrated by both sides under the old regime.” —Historical Novel Society