Anna’s Dance: A Balkan Odyssey

July 21, 2013

Amer­i­can anti­semitism has scarred twen­ty-three-year-old Anna and her par­ents in var­i­ous ways. Her par­ents have cut their ties with Judaism, while Anna craves con­nec­tion but fears the label Jew.’ As Amer­i­ca erupts in civ­il unrest dur­ing spring 1968, Anna plans a student’s West­ern Euro­pean sum­mer with a friend. When chance dis­rupts her vaca­tion, she embarks on a dan­ger­ous jour­ney through East­ern Europe and into the heart of the Balka­ns. Steeped in Yugoslav his­to­ry, she vis­its sites of trag­ic eth­nic suf­fer­ing. But more impor­tant­ly, she meets both Jews and non-Jew­ish minori­ties repressed by their regimes. Through these expe­ri­ences, and a deep bond with a Mace­don­ian sep­a­ratist that opens her to love but puts her in dan­ger, she under­goes a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing and proud­ly embraces her Jew­ish identity.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Michele Levy

  1. In 1968, the world erupt­ed in chaos. How did that con­text affect the char­ac­ters in the novel?

  2. Dis­cuss what the title means. In what sense is Anna’s jour­ney an odyssey? What does dance sig­ni­fy as metaphor or theme?

  3. The Holo­caust and anti­semitism play impor­tant roles in the nov­el. How does the nov­el show their imprint on Jew­ish, Amer­i­can, and Balkan his­to­ry? Con­sid­er how they shape Anna.

  4. Alien­at­ed from her coun­try, fam­i­ly, and Jew­ish roots, Anna has nev­er felt at home.” Dis­cuss what fac­tors you think con­tribute to this. Where does she final­ly find home”? What does she feel it to be?

  5. Though patri­archy still dom­i­nat­ed in the late six­ties, fem­i­nism was on the rise (Ms. Mag­a­zine, 1972). Is Anna a fem­i­nist? Would that alone account for her prob­lem with inti­ma­cy? What oth­er rea­sons might there be?

  6. What do Anna, Max, and Spiro have in com­mon? How do those two male char­ac­ters help Anna com­plete her odyssey?

  7. Giv­en her issues with inti­ma­cy, why do you think Anna stays in a tiny moun­tain town with a man she just met whose iden­ti­ty may be sus­pect? To what is she responding?

  8. Dis­cuss the bond between Anna and Max. Does it change as the nov­el pro­gress­es? If so, in what way?

  9. The nov­el men­tions many eth­nic minori­ties: Jews, African Amer­i­cans, the Irish, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Mace­do­nians, Arme­ni­ans, and Greeks. Despite the unique his­to­ry of each, what do they all have in com­mon? What iden­ti­ty issues do they share?

  10. Love” res­onates through­out her trip as well— its absence, the var­ied forms it can take, the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive effects it can have. Dis­cuss what you think Anna learns about love.

  11. Does your view of Anna change as she moves through her jour­ney? What path do you imag­ine her tak­ing once she returns to America?

  12. Dis­cuss any par­al­lels you see between the socio-polit­i­cal cli­mate of 1968 and that of 2021. Is there a way for­ward for Anna or any of us?