My City of Dreams: A Memoir

September 1, 2019

Lisa Gru­en­berg first start­ed writ­ing when her elder­ly father, a Vien­nese Holo­caust sur­vivor, began hav­ing flash­backs and night­mares about the past. She wrote in the voice of her father’s sis­ter, Mia, who dis­ap­peared into Ger­many in 1941 and whose name her father would not say out loud until a year before his death. Her father always spoke about his city in the most joy­ous way. By the time she inquired more deeply, he was unable to reli­ably remem­ber the past. After his death, she trans­lat­ed fam­i­ly let­ters and trav­eled to Vien­na and Ger­many to explore his lost land­scape. She inter­wove her present-day sto­ry with Mia’s and her father’s, link­ing them with pho­tographs, pri­ma­ry-source doc­u­ments, let­ters, her father’s writ­ing, and the joy­ful tales he told her long ago. This is a Holo­caust tale, but it is also very much the mod­ern-day sto­ry of the rela­tion­ship between one daugh­ter and her father, about how trau­ma trav­els down through the gen­er­a­tions, and about how we find mean­ing in our lives.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Lisa Gruenberg

  1. Did you find the author cred­i­ble? Could you relate to her sto­ry? Did you learn any­thing new from this book?

  2. The author uses orig­i­nal doc­u­ments, let­ters, and pho­tographs. Did these enhance your experience?

  3. To tell this sto­ry, the author has to move around in time with­in a chrono­log­ic frame­work. How did she accom­plish this? The author uses the fic­tion­al voice of her Aunt Mia speak­ing in the present tense, while she tells her own sto­ry in the past tense. At the end of the sto­ry the voic­es merge, and for the last few pages, the author speaks in the present tense. What do you think about this device?

  4. In the book, the author tries to resolve con­flict­ing nar­ra­tives to try to find mean­ing in her and her fam­i­ly’s sto­ry. What are the over­ar­ch­ing themes that tie the sto­ry­lines together?

  5. If you could hear this sto­ry from anoth­er per­spec­tive, from whom would you want to hear?

  6. If you had the chance to ask the author a ques­tion, what would it be?