1. The large and imposing desk in the novel is passed from life to life, moving through space and time to link the characters in the novel to each other and to the past. What does this inheritance represent for each? Is it a burden?
2. A sense of loss—of a child, a parent, a lover, a home, youth, an illusion, and so many other things—suffuses the novel. How do the characters respond to loss, destruction, and change?
3. The novel is composed of intimate and emotional monologues that have the tone of a confession. What does Nadia, or Arthur, or Aaron feel themselves to be guilty of? What role does judgment play in the novel?
4. Many of the characters are haunted by doubt or uncertainty, whether it's moral doubt, or self-doubt, or the doubt that comes with a realization of the limits of how fully known we can ever be to one another, of how often we must live unknown and unknowing. What is the nature of Nadia's doubt, as expressed in the question that afflicts her: What if I had been wrong? What kind of uncertainty did Arthur feel in his marriage? And Aaron, as a father? What about Yoav and Leah Weisz?
5. Why do you think Lotte chose to give her child away? And why did Nadia choose to give up children, her marriage, a social life—everything but her solitude? What other kinds of sacrifices do the characters make?
6. What role does regret play in the novel?
7. What is the significance of the locked and empty desk drawer?
8. How does the story of Ben Zakkai and the destruction of Jerusalem—a response to catastrophic loss that led to a radical reinvention of Judaism that allowed it to survive in the Diaspora—relate to the rest of the novel?
Read O's review
Get more reading guides
From the October 2010 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!