2. The novel takes place long before the sexual revolution. How have changing sexual mores affected the world we live in? What has been lost? What has been gained?
3. On pages 32–33, Dr. Freud exhorts Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn to cleave to the truth without exception: "Men of science, such as ourselves, cannot afford to lie. Even in our private lives, we must ally ourselves so completely with the truth that nothing will ever turn us from it." Throughout the novel, however, Dr. Freud continually contradicts himself and revises his thinking based upon expediency and changing circumstances. How are we to understand Dr. Freud's apparent hypocrisy? Is he a positive or a negative influence on the other characters? Do you think Skibell's fictional Dr. Freud is an accurate portrait of the real Sigmund Freud?
4. On page 287, Jakob compares Dr. Zamenhof and Dr. Freud's view of humanity, and he suggests that Dr. Zamenhof's view possesses "a sweetness missing from Dr. Freud's." He continues: "Whereas Dr. Freud seemed to see a wild beast, trussed up in a suit and masquerading as a man, Dr. Zamenhof saw its opposite: an angel who, convinced he was a man, had forgotten the most essential thing about himself." Can Dr. Freud and Dr. Zamenhof's opposing views of humanity be reconciled? Whose view do you think is more accurate and why?
5. The year 1900 is depicted as a pivotal year, one in which the future seems to have arrived, a new, bright era of technological innovation and intellectual and social freedoms. Humankind seemed to be on the point of perfecting itself, a hope that was dashed a mere 14 years later by the start of World War I. How does the turn of the century in 1900 compare with the turn of the century in 2000? Are there parallels between the year 1900 and the 1960s? How do the themes of cynicism and naïveté play out around these issues in the novel?
6. When the Delegation for the Adoption of an International Language meet in Paris in 1907 to decide on an international language, Esperanto boasted a large, worldwide network of speakers, organizations, clubs, publishing houses, journals, magazines, and books. If Professor Couturat and his colleagues hadn't sabotaged the Esperanto movement, what do you imagine would have happened? Could Esperanto have ever been established as an international language? If not, why not? How would having a universal language change the world we currently live in?
7. In Book I, according to Dr. Freud, Ita is nothing more than a symptom of Fräulein Eckstein's hysteria. In Book II, according to Rector Boirac, her possession of Fräulein Zinger is merely an example of group trance. Even in Book III, Dr. Sammelsohn suspects that the two angels who have pointed Ita out to him may in fact be hallucinations he is experiencing because of hunger. Does the novel offer any convincing proof that her post-life existence is either real or imagined? What do you believe?
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9. The novel is also filled with fathers: In addition to Jakob's actual father, Dr. Freud, Dr. Zamenhof, and Rav Szapira serve him as paternal figures. How are these men similar in the effects they have upon Jakob? How are they different? Are there any "good fathers" in the book? How does Jakob's search for a father propel him through his journey?
10. On page 347, in a conversation with his sister Sore Dvore, Jakob says of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (Israel): "It's only there that a Jew can live as a man." In the last line of the book, he revises this sentiment: "It was only there...that a man could live as a Jew." What does this slight change in wording signify? How does the novel address the themes of exile, tradition, assimilation, and—in the words of Woody Allen—the game of hide-and-seek that God plays in the world?
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