Qui­et Americans

By – August 31, 2011

Author Eri­ka Drei­fus sets the ground­work for Qui­et Amer­i­cans with two essen­tial quo­ta­tions. It doesn’t end. Nev­er will it end,” observed Gün­ter Grass. Asked Imre Kertész: Which writer today is not a writer of the Holocaust?”

In this engag­ing debut col­lec­tion, the Holo­caust is indeed omnipresent. Though often unac­knowl­edged and out of sight, it deeply informs Eri­ka Dreifus’s decep­tive­ly calm short sto­ries. The prose style through­out is inti­mate and care­ful­ly observed. Sev­er­al of the sto­ries are inter­con­nect­ed. They range in time and set­ting from tiny Altheim at the edge of the Black For­est, in 1914, to Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal on the Upper East Side of Man­hat­tan in the present cen­tu­ry. Drei­fus ably inter­weaves the events of every­day Jew­ish life, includ­ing births, par­ent­hood, rit­u­al cir­cum­ci­sion, post­par­tum depres­sion, grand­par­ent­hood, fam­i­ly squab­bles, with apt­ly select­ed peri­od details: an online geneal­o­gy site, Shab­bos ele­va­tors, the mur­der of Israeli ath­letes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, DP camps, sono­grams, Star­bucks, invid­i­ous anti- Semi­tism in the spiel of a Stuttgart tour guide, even a Zabar’s mug.

Judith Felsen­feld book of short fic­tion, Blaustein’s Kiss, was pub­lished in April, 2014. Her sto­ries have appeared in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary reviews, includ­ing The Chica­go Review, The South­west Review, Blue Mesa, and broad­cast nation­wide on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.

Discussion Questions

pro­vid­ed by Eri­ka Dreifus

  1. Which char­ac­ters seem to you to most resem­ble Qui­et Amer­i­cans”? How does their quiet­ness” affect plot points and/​or oth­er char­ac­ters in their respec­tive sto­ries? On the oth­er hand, are there char­ac­ters that impress you as decid­ed­ly unqui­et”? What is their impact?

  2. Which character(s) do you feel clos­est to? Why?

  3. In many respects, the sto­ries in are Jew­ish” sto­ries. They fea­ture Jew­ish char­ac­ters and fam­i­lies; they incor­po­rate Jew­ish rit­u­al and Hebrew and Yid­dish words; they are atten­tive to Israel; and in draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from the author’s own fam­i­ly his­to­ry — par­tic­u­lar­ly the expe­ri­ences of her pater­nal grand­par­ents, Ger­man Jews who immi­grat­ed to the Unit­ed States in the late 1930s — they are, in a sense, an autho­r­i­al response to the Juda­ic imper­a­tive to remem­ber (). Are these sto­ries Jew­ish in any oth­er ways? What is their acces­si­bil­i­ty to or rel­e­vance for read­ers who aren’t Jew­ish?Qui­et Amer­i­cans zachor

  4. In For Ser­vices Ren­dered,” we learn that Klara Weld­mann had want­ed to leave Ger­many for years, already. [Ernst] was the one reluc­tant to aban­don the land of his ances­tors.” Lat­er, in Mish­pocha,” a mem­ber of the Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion online dis­cus­sion group to which David Kauf­mann belongs won­ders why his own father’s fam­i­ly didn’t flee when the Ger­mans were on their doorstep” and receives this response from anoth­er par­tic­i­pant: “‘It was their home. What can move you to leave your home?” Can you imag­ine any cir­cum­stances that might com­pel you to leave your home(land)? What might they be?

  6. Matri­lin­eal Descent” con­cludes with the infor­ma­tion that Emma Gross was für tot erk­lärt seit 30 Okto­ber 1940,” or assumed dead since the day she was deport­ed (to an exter­mi­na­tion camp). How did you react to the news of this character’s fate?

  7. Why might the author have cho­sen Leben­sraum” to title a sto­ry set in Iowa in 1944?

  8. A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of Home­com­ings” involves the mur­der of Israeli ath­letes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. If you remem­ber this event, what are your rec­ol­lec­tions? If you know the his­to­ry only through books, films, etc., how does the por­tray­al in Home­com­ings” compare?

  9. Float­ing” is the first of the sto­ries into be set in the 21st cen­tu­ry, and unlike the three sto­ries that pre­cede it, Float­ing” does not include mem­bers of the Freiburg fam­i­ly among its char­ac­ters. How does Float­ing” con­nect — the­mat­i­cal­ly or oth­er­wise — with the rest of the book? In a broad­er sense, how do the sev­en sto­ries work as dis­tinct and indi­vid­ual pieces, and how do they work com­bined to form a sin­gle book? Qui­et Amer­i­cans 

  10. In The Qui­et Amer­i­can, Or How to Be a Good Guest,” a Jew­ish-Amer­i­can grand­daugh­ter of refugees from Nazi Ger­many trav­els to her grand­par­ents’ native coun­try in the sum­mer of 2004. She reflects: You are an Amer­i­can. You are a grown-up. What’s to wor­ry about? Even now, even this sum­mer of 2004, when your own home­land needs secu­ri­ty, and every time you watch the news you’re afraid you’ll hear about anoth­er sui­cide bomb­ing on a bus in Israel.” What do these sen­ti­ments sug­gest about com­plex­i­ties of Jew­ish-Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty in the 21st century?

  11. Mish­pocha” con­cludes with David Kauf­mann reach­ing out to a new­ly-dis­cov­ered genet­ic rel­a­tive. What do you envi­sion hap­pen­ing after David’s mes­sage is received? (If you’d like, why not try to write the next scene?)