This is from the publisher:
1. The book opens with two epigraphs. How do these quotes set the scene for the rest of the book? Discuss how the radio plays a major part in the story and the time period. How do you think the impact of the radio back then compares with the impact of the Internet on today’s society?
I touched upon this in part 1, but the radio represents how far we “think” we’ve come, but that humans can’t even comprehend how all things in the universe works. We make judgement calls, thinking we are right, and we don’t have all of the information. Who would have thought we could have gone to the moon? Who would have conceived that antibiotics would change the course of human life expectancy? There are things that we cannot see right now, science, spiritually, and socially. If you had asked someone in the 1770’s if we would have had a black president, it would have been scoffed at. There is so much we have yet to see.
2. When Werner and Jutta first hear the Frenchman on the radio, he concludes his broadcast by saying “Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (pages 48–49), and Werner recalls these words throughout the book (pages 86, 264, and 409). How do you think this phrase relates to the overall message of the story? How does it relate to Madame Manec’s question: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (page 270)?
I think it is the cliche that life is short, don’t waste time with things that don’t matter — lead a good life. This coincides with Naziism. Open your eyes, don’t let hatreds destroy you and so many other lives.
3. On page 160, Marie-Laure realizes “This…is the basis of his fear, all fear. That a light you are powerless to stop will turn on you and usher a bullet to its mark.” How does this image constitute the most general basis of all fear? Do you agree?
I think it oversimplifies things. Take example death, everyone fears death. Death is powerless to stop, it comes for us all. Is the ultimate fear that death will shine it’s light on you and mark you? Sure. I don’t discount that. This statement is just overly simplistic. Fear can be a many thing. There are worse things than death. Fear of death just might be the strongest until something very, very bad happens to you.
4. Reread Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy on page 284. Etienne later asks Marie-Laure, “Who was supposed to be the frog? Her? Or the Germans?” (page 328) Who did you think Madame Manec meant? Could it have been someone other than herself or the Germans? What does it say about Etienne that he doesn’t consider himself to be the frog?
I think the frogs in the situation can be the Germans or the French. Either way you look at it. The French could sit there and not resist, and they will slowly die. It can also mean that the Germans can slowly pick away and the Jews, Poland, and anyone else … before anyone realizes that the holocaust has happened.
5. On page 368, Werner thinks, “That is how things are…with everybody in this unit, in this army, in this world, they do as they’re told, they get scared, they move about with only themselves in mind. Name me someone who does not.” But in fact many of the characters show great courage and selflessness throughout the story in some way, big or small. Talk about the different ways they put themselves at risk in order to do what they think is right. What do you think were some shining moments? Who did you admire most?
The person I admired most was Marie-Laure’s father. He always did the right thing no matter what it was. He put his daughter first. He put the museum first. He lived and died a noble, honest, wonderful human being.
6. On page 390, the author writes, “To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness.” What did you learn or realize about blindness through Marie-Laure’s perspective? Do you think her being blind gave her any advantages?
Blindness here could also mean against the German machine. There are many forms of blindness, not just physical. So many Germans and people around the world closed their eyes to what was going on. No one could have guessed the amount of people who turned a blind eye.
7. One of Werner’s bravest moments is when he confronts von Rumpel: “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (page 465) Have you ever had a moment like that? Were you ready? What would you say that moment is for some of the other characters?
I think another way to simplify this is to state when did a character not have an angle? Werner’s was indeed Rumple. Before that, when he doesn’t turn in Marie-Laure is that he personally had an angle. He wanted to know of the people in the house. Rumple was true sacrifice and doing something solely for another.
Fredde was clearly when he poured out the water. He had taken stuff his whole life, because he felt like his life wasn’t his. He went to the school for his mother and father, he sucked it up when the teacher beat him. The water was his stand.
Etienne’s moment was leaving the house to find Marie-Laure. He loved his brother, but fear kept him inside the house. Etienne left for Marie-Laure.
8. Why do you think Marie-Laure gave Werner the little iron key? Why might Werner have gone back for the wooden house but left the Sea of Flames?
It was the house and the inhabitants that were priceless, not the diamond.
9. The 1970s image of Jutta is one of a woman deeply guilt-ridden and self-conscious about her identity as a German. Why do you think she feels so much guilt over the crimes of others?
The crimes were horrific and countless. To use the theme of light and sight, some of the crimes were not as easily seen. It goes beyond the gas chambers, the soldiers dying, and civilian deaths. The crime of all those lives around the world that would never get lived to their fullest. Jutta’s life was not the same because of the war, and not just due to the rape. She lost her brother, her sense of self, and her security. She lost her identity. She lost the relationship with her brother. It’s apparent in Volkheimer. He didn’t die, but in a way, he did. He leads a bland and purposefully empty life because of his unconscionable actions. He realizes now, too late, what a horrible person he was. Is there redemption? Maybe. But a lot of the characters, and a lot of the people who are still alive in this world, may not, or should not (depending on how you feel) achieve.
Do you think she should feel any shame about her identity?
Jutta? I don’t know what she did. What she represents? Yes. It takes a village, as they say. A better example if Fredde’s mom. Did she outright kill anyone? No. Did she let the German machine work for her? Encourage it? Send her son to be a part of it? Yes.
10. What do you think of the author’s decision to flash forward at the end of the book? Did you like getting a peek into the future of some of these characters? Did anything surprise you?
I think it added to the story. Much like Age of Innocence, you must follow the characters from beginning to end to really get a sense of their lives, of what living in that time period meant. To simply talk about how connections between people come about, doesn’t make much sense unless you see the progression. To live life through Marie-Laure and Werner is to understand their place in time, their struggles, their desires, the impact of the world around them. That’s how we understand the impact of the events that occurred in their lives. It aids our understanding that there are things we cannot see — like how different the world would be in 2015 as compared to 1945. To fully understand that as Marie-Laure sits on the park bench, the world around her no longer comprehends the time she grew up in. Kids these days do not understand the world of Marie-Laure – the choices, the false assumptions, the reasons for the violence. This occurs time and time again. Vietnam, race relations, and currently gay rights. It’s a theme that is current in our world – the statement is usually noted as wanting to be on the right side of history.
The story is more impactful, the theme is more impactful, when you see it applied from start to finish.
Madeline Fresco is a novelist who lives in San Diego. She is the author of CROSSED THE LINE, available for Kindle at Amazon.com, for Nook at Barnes & Noble, and as an ePub at other eBook retailers. You can also listen to her novel as a free, serialized audiobook at . Her second book THE CHOICE, is available on Kindle at Amazon. Her third book ANGUISH, is available for Kindle at Amazon.com