October 25, 2011

March 1944: War’s dark­est peri­od descends upon Hungary’s Jews. By the time it ends in Jan­u­ary 1945, over half a mil­lion Jews will have been mur­dered. Grat­i­tude tells the sto­ry of that peri­od, through the eyes of the wealthy Beck fam­i­ly, whose lives and loves are saved and lost. At the cen­ter of it all is Paul Beck, a young lawyer whose chance meet­ing with a vis­it­ing Swede, Raoul Wal­len­berg, may alter the inevitabil­i­ty of the Jews’ fate. Like The Gar­den of the Finzi-Con­ti­nis, Grat­i­tude cap­tures for­ev­er the pain and pas­sion of one’s fam­i­ly pre­cious moment in time.

Discussion Questions

1. What do you think is rep­re­sent­ed by the stam­pede of wild hors­es that Lili wit­ness­es? Do hors­es recur in the nov­el? Do oth­er ani­mals play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the nov­el? For exam­ple, how does Smetana the cat help Ist­van to survive? 

2. What is the role of music in this nov­el? How did the pas­sages about music add to your read­ing expe­ri­ence? What is being implied by the music? 

3. Com­man­dant Karoly Fekete mer­ci­ful­ly saves Lili from Sergeant Erdo. In the con­cen­tra­tion camp, a cru­el guard spares Marta’s life and helps her escape. Why do you think peo­ple capa­ble of such cru­el­ty are also depict­ed as capa­ble of compassion? 

4. Was it rea­son­able for Robert to ask Paul and his sis­ter to go on work detail? Did he intend for Paul to depart? Why do you think Paul decid­ed to leave at the end of the nov­el with­out telling his fam­i­ly where he was going? Where do you think he goes? 

5. Why is the nov­el called Grat­i­tude?