The List

Thomas Dunne Books  2011

 
Like the transient denizens of Casablanca in the film of the same name, this novel’s characters live from day to day, waiting. Though the Second World War has just ended, these German-speaking Jewish refugees living in North London in 1945 are uncertain of their future and are largely helpless to do anything about it. Subsisting on irregular, menial work, they constantly seek out news of lost relatives, fearing the worst but hoping against the odds that a few might have survived. 

Their position is fragile. Living in Britain on temporary visas, they are vulnerable to the campaign by some of their British neighbors to have them expelled. With Oswald Moseley newly released from prison, the British Fascists are again holding anti-Semitic rallies. As foreigners, the émigrés are blamed for taking jobs away from English workers, and as Jews they are seen as somehow implicated in the violent acts by militias in Palestine against the British colonial government. 

Even as those troubling events unfold, these likable people hold on to their optimism, and as 1945 ends, their collective and individual futures come into view. The hopes of expectant parents, a young survivor’s tentative steps toward love, and a mysterious Egyptian’s secret mission make this story emotionally affecting as well as historically resonant. Martin Fletcher writes with particular authority about this time and place: his own parents lived in circumstances much like the ones he describes.

Discussion Questions 

Courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books

  1. Can a refugee be considered in the same category as a Holocaust survivor? Did Edith and Georg suffer in any way that is comparable to Anna’s suffering?

  2. When Edith left her family at Vienna’s rail station, she knew she may never see them again. Then it is in another train station in London that Edith greets her cousin Anna, the first Holocaust survivor that she has met. What is the significance of the rail stations? Do they symbolize the journey of the characters or is it just a coincidence?

  3. When Edith and Georg discover that Papi may be alive somewhere in Europe, they are torn and argue. Edith wants Georg to go to Vienna and look for her father. Was that possible? Should he have gone? What would have awaited him in Europe so soon after the end of World War 2?

  4. When did you realize that Ismael was not an Egyptian anti-semite but an undercover Palestinian Jew? Was his relationship with Anna convincing?

  5. Anna arrived in London with all the burden of Auschwitz and refused to talk about it. Why did she refuse? Was it helpful to her to remain silent or would she have benefited from the catharsis of talking about her experiences?

  6. What kind of a person is Anna? What happened to her in the Holocaust? She is the silent character of the book yet she has a very strong presence in the story. Why?

  7. Would it have been good for the Jews in Palestine to assassinate Ernest Bevin or harmful to their cause? How widespread was Jewish terrorism in Britain?

  8. How wide-spread was anti-Semitism in Britain at that time? And today? In other countries?

  9. To be a Jewish refugee in London, or anywhere for that matter, and to suspect, but not to know for sure, that your family is being tortured and killed in Europe - what must that have been like?

  10. And then after the war, the suspense and drawn-out struggle to discover their relatives’s fate – to what extent could other people understand and sympathise? Or is there no way for uninvolved people to understand? Did their understanding matter to the Jews then?

  11. Did refugees take the jobs and homes of returning soldiers? Was that a fair complaint?

  12. Did Jews have the right to fight back in the streets or should they have relied on the police to defend them? What was more important? To fight back physically or to try to educate the British to accept the Jews?

  13. Was Georg too weak in his relationship with Ismael? Should he have resisted earlier? Should he have informed the police as soon as he understood what Ismael was planning?

  14. The landlords Albert and Sally – Why did they not evict the refugees to make room for soldiers? What was their attitude towards the refugees? Was it typical of the British?

  15. How did the British behave towards the Jews? Was it any different from other countries? How has it changed today?


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