1. How would you describe Nina Revskaya? What kind a person was she? Do you sympathize with the way events shaped the woman she became? And how would you compare her with Vera Borodina? What exactly was the nature of their friendship? What held them back from sharing their deepest secrets?
2. How does living in a repressive society like Stalin's Soviet Union affect human relationships? Can real trust ever be formed between friends, spouses, colleagues? What risks do people face in revealing their true nature?
3. Each piece of Nina's jewelry denotes a particular memory. Why do you think she waited so long to finally part with her jewels? Are there memories we have that are too painful to face, yet too dear to let go of? Do any of your possessions hold a special memory for you?
4. In your opinion, did Viktor Elsin truly love Nina? Did she love him? What about Gersh and Vera? What sacrifices was each willing to make for love?
5. After she defected, Nina believed she had shed the first third of her life. To what extent was this true? Can we ever truly rid ourselves of parts of our lives—or ourselves—that we don't like? What is the price of forgetting?
6. Nina cherished the solitude of her later years. "She relished the very texture of her privacy, its depth of space and freedom, much of an entire day hers alone. Her early life of always sharing, never a private moment or corner or closet shelf of her own, had left her hungry for this." Was her solitude a release, or was it a fortress she used to keep others—and the past—away?
7. Was Nina a victim of the society in which she was raised—or a perpetrator of its worst abuses? Would her ambitions have eventually led her to behave the way her jealousy ultimately caused her to act? Was Nina's jealousy justified? Did Viktor, Gershstein, and Vera have a hand in their own demise? Are the choices Nina made forgivable?
8. Themes of art, politics, and love are intertwined throughout the novel. How do art and politics influence each other? Can art be a release from political oppression? In what ways can it be oppression's tool?
9. Can art flourish in a repressive state? How does repression influence the creation and expression of art? In a repressive state like the Soviet Union, must artistic success be accompanied by compromise? Compare the choices that Viktor, Nina, Gersh, and Vera made.
10. Were Gersh, Viktor, and Vera radicals? What makes someone a dissident? Why do nations like the former Soviet Union insist on silencing all criticism?
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