Wun­der­land: A Novel

January 1, 2013

An inti­mate por­trait of a friend­ship, sev­ered by his­to­ry and wartime. Man­hat­tan, 1989. Things had nev­er been easy between Ava and her estranged moth­er Ilse. Too many ques­tions hov­ered between them: Who was Ava’s father? Where had Ilse been dur­ing the war? Why had she left her only child in a Ger­man orphan­age dur­ing the war? But now Ilse’s ash­es have arrived from Ger­many, and with them a trove of unsent let­ters addressed to some­one else unknown to Ava: Renate, a child­hood friend. As her mother’s let­ters unfurl a dark past, Ava spi­rals into the shock­ing his­to­ry of a woman she nev­er tru­ly knew. 

Berlin, 1933. As the Nazi par­ty tight­ens its grip, Ilse and Renate find their friend­ship under siege — and Ilse’s involve­ment in the Hitler Youth leaves them on oppos­ing sides. Then the Nurem­burg Laws force Renate to con­front a long-buried past, and a cat­a­stroph­ic betray­al is set in motion. An unflinch­ing explo­ration of Nazi Ger­many, Wun­der­land is a page-turn­ing con­tem­pla­tion of just how far we might go in order to belong.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Crown Publishing

1. The var­i­ous points of view in the nov­el give us insight into a character’s think­ing and help us under­stand why they made cer­tain deci­sions. Did any char­ac­ter make a deci­sion that you felt was unforgiveable?

2. Which char­ac­ter did you most relate to in the nov­el? Which char­ac­ter did you find the most dif­fi­cult to understand?

3. We first enter the sto­ry through Ava’s point of view as she reads Ilse’s let­ters for the first time. What is the ben­e­fit of using this struc­ture? Why does the author choose to write in mul­ti­ple time peri­ods? Would the sto­ry have been dif­fer­ent had it been writ­ten chronologically?

4. Renate’s sense of iden­ti­ty is turned upside down at a piv­otal point in her ado­les­cence. What impact do you think this had on Renate’s life? Can you relate to her experience?

5. As the nov­el pro­gress­es, we see Ilse remain silent as dras­tic changes take place in her city, many of which ulti­mate­ly impact Renate. Why do you think Ilse doesn’t speak up?

6. Despite butting heads at every turn, Ava and her moth­er are sim­i­lar in many ways — they’re both head­strong, deter­mined, and pro­tec­tive. What more do you think they have in com­mon? Why is their rela­tion­ship so strained? 

7. Why do you think Ilse keeps so many secrets from Ava? Do you think Ava would have fared bet­ter had she known the truth from the start? Why or why not? 8. Did you find Ilse to be a sym­pa­thet­ic char­ac­ter? When did you begin to under­stand her point of view, or when did you lose touch with her?

9Wun­der­land opens with an epi­graph from Alice in Won­der­land and Renate returns to this children’s sto­ry sev­er­al times in the nov­el. What is the sig­nif­i­cance of this to the nov­el and to Renate in particular?

10. Were you sur­prised by the end­ing? What did you think of Renate’s deci­sions in the last chapter?

11. Ulti­mate­ly, Ilse and Renate’s sto­ry is a fic­tion­al­ized account of what tru­ly hap­pened to mil­lions of peo­ple in Europe dur­ing WWII. What is the ben­e­fit of read­ing a fic­tion­al­ized nov­el about this time peri­od? How is it dif­fer­ent from read­ing non­fic­tion about the same events?

12. Do you feel that any of the themes explored in Wun­der­land are applic­a­ble in today’s world?