1. What does the opening chapter establish about the cultural and social milieu of prewar Budapest? What do Andras's reactions to Hász household reveal about the status of Jews within the larger society? How do the differences between the Hász and Lévi families affect their assumptions and behavior during the war? Which scenes and characters most clearly demonstrate the tensions within the Jewish community?
2. Why do Andras and his friends at the Ecole Spéciale tolerate the undercurrent of anti-Semitism at the school even after the verbal attack on Eli Polaner (pp. 39–40) and the spate of vandalism against Jewish students (p. 94)? To what extent are their reactions shaped by their nationalities, political beliefs, or personal histories? Why does Andras agree to infiltrate the meeting of Le Grand Occident (pp. 97–102)? Is his belief that "[the police] wouldn't deport me ... Not for serving the ideals of France" (p. 102), as well as the reactions of Professor Vago and Andras's father to the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (p. 266) naïve, or do they represent widespread opinions and assumptions?
3. Andras and Klara's love blossoms against the background of uncertainties and fear. Is Klara's initial lack of openness about her background justified by her situation? Why does she eventually begin an affair with Andras? Are they equally responsible for the arguments, break-ups, and reconciliations that characterize their courtship? Do Klara's revelations (pp. 214–34) change your opinion of her and the way she has behaved?
4. Despite the grim circumstances, Andras and Mendel produce satirical newspapers in the labor camps. What do the excerpts from The Snow Goose
(p. 331), The Biting Fly
(pp. 360–61), and The Crooked Rail
(p. 437) show about the strategies that helped laborers preserve their humanity and their sanity? What other survival techniques do Andras and his fellow laborers develop?
5. In Budapest, the Lévi and Hász families sustain themselves with small pleasures, daily tasks at home and, in the case of the men, working at the few jobs still available to Jews (pp. 352–55, pp. 366–77, pp. 405–10). Are they driven by practical or emotional needs, or both? Does the attempt to maintain ordinary life represent hope and courage, or a tragic failure to recognize the ever-encroaching danger? What impact do the deprivations and degradations imposed by the Germans have on the relationship between the families? Which characters are the least able or willing to accept the threats to their homeland and their culture?
6. What details in the descriptions of Bánhida (pp. 356–63, pp. 392–99), Turka (pp. 486–503), and the transport trains (pp. 558–66) most chillingly capture the cruelty perpetrated by the Nazis? In addition to physical abuse and deprivation, what are the psychological effects of the camps' rules and the laws imposed on civilian populations?
7. General Martón in Bánhida (pp. 399–402), Captain Erdó, and the famous General Vilmos Nagy in Turka all display kindness and compassion. Miklós Klein engages in the tremendously dangerous work of arranging emigrations for fellow Jews (pp. 422–23). What motivates each of them to act as they do? What political ideals and moral principles lie at the heart Nagy's stirring speech to the officers-in-training (pp. 506–7)? (Because of his refusal to support official anti-Semitic policies, Nagy was eventually forced to resign from the Hungarian army; in 1965, he was the first Hungarian named as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Institute.)
8. Why does Klara refuse to leave Budapest and go to Palestine (p. 510)? Is her decision the result of her own set of circumstances, or does it reflect the attitudes of other Jews in Hungary and other countries under Nazi control?
9. "He could no sooner cease being Jewish than he could cease being a brother to his brothers, a son to his father and mother" (p. 46). Discuss the value and importance of Jewish beliefs and traditions to Andras and other Jews, considering such passages as Andras's feelings in the above quotation and his thoughts on the High Holidays (pp. 201–3); the weddings of Ben Yakov and Ilana (pp. 255–56) and of Andras and Klara (p. 317); the family seder in wartime Budapest (pp. 352–55); and the prayers and small rituals conducted in work camps.More discussion questions