The Curi­ous Spell of Madam Genova

September 1, 2021

His­tor­i­cal Judaism is steeped in mys­ti­cal tra­di­tion that con­cerns the use of mag­ic. It was long con­sid­ered per­mit­ted white mag­ic by its prac­ti­tion­ers. In effect, what is con­sid­ered prac­ti­cal Kab­bal­ah is an agglom­er­a­tion of all the mag­i­cal prac­tices that devel­oped in Judaism from the Tal­mu­dic peri­od down through the Mid­dle Ages.

J.G. Schwartz’s heart­warm­ing tale, The Curi­ous Spell of Madam Gen­o­va, begins in New York City, in the 1920’s, when clair­voy­ant extra­or­di­naire, Jen­ny Gen­o­va, casts a spell upon two pock­et watch­es. The spells goes ter­ri­bly awry. The nov­el fol­lows the jour­ney of the watch­es as they pass from own­er to own­er, result­ing in amaz­ing luck, and in hor­rif­ic tragedy, for some of the most famous indi­vid­u­als of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca. Charles Lind­bergh, Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Oba­ma, among oth­ers, are some whose lives become inter­con­nect­ed, and their fates inter­twined with a touch of magic.

A Jew­ish audi­ence will be enter­tained with the mag­ic sewn through­out the nov­el, and will empathize with top­ics includ­ing anti­semitism, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, and issues of domes­tic violence.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of J.G. Schwartz

  1. Were you sur­prised or offend­ed when you learned how Jen­ny Gen­o­va and Monique LeClaire became best friends?

  2. What was your reac­tion to the anti-Semit­ic dis­cus­sion between Charles Lind­bergh and John F. Kennedy?

  3. Did this book make you want to explore the sub­ject mat­ter more? Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe? Bet­sy Bloom­ing­dale? Nel­son Man­dela? Nan­cy Reagan?

  4. If you had the chance to own one of the watch­es, would you accept it?

  5. Are you super­sti­tious? Do you spit three times to ward off the Evil Eye (peh, peh, peh or ptu, ptu, ptu)? Knock on wood? Spill salt over your shoulder?

  6. Do you believe Nel­son Man­dela swayed George H.W. Bush’s opin­ion regard­ing racial discrimination?

  7. What did you think of the mum­mi­fy­ing” charm Monique gave to her client, Mr. Jav­its, to silence his wife when he arrived home in the evening?

  8. Did you feel Monique LeClaire actu­al­ly helped police cap­ture David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)?

  9. Do you feel that Jen­ny Gen­o­va helped Anne Mor­row Lind­bergh when her son was kid­napped? If so, how?

  10. What scene in the book stuck with you the most?

  11. Did you reread any passages?

  12. Do you think the indi­vid­u­als who were the final own­ers of the sil­ver and gold pock­et watch­es were a good fit? If so, Why?

  13. Lead­ers of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca (politicians/​presidents/​astronauts/​movie stars) often spent their child­hood involved with the Boy Scouts. Do today’s lead­ers have a sim­i­lar back­ground? Are mem­bers of your fam­i­ly involved in scout­ing? If so, has it opened doors” for them regard­ing their career?