Reading guide for Ordinary Heroes by Scott Turow

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Ordinary Heroes

By Scott Turow

Ordinary Heroes
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2005,
    371 pages.
    Paperback: Oct 2006,
    512 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes. We hope they will enrich your experience of this mesmerizing novel and the frontlines it brings to life.

Courts of law have set the stage in each of Scott Turow's bestselling books. With Ordinary Heroes, Turow introduces an attorney who is operating in a new setting and period—on the killing fields of World War II's European theater, under highly unusual circumstances. A JAG lawyer assigned to a case in which the enemy may prove to be his own government, with no law office and no research library, David Dubin is ordered to bring a fellow soldier to justice.

Ordinary Heroes is narrated by Kindle County journalist Stewart Dubinsky (whom readers may recognize from some of Turow's previous novels) and by Stewart's father. Stewart discovers an unexpected chapter of family lore after the death of his father, David Dubin, who Americanized the surname that Stewart later reclaimed.

Through wartime letters, military archives, and eventually the notes for a memoir that Dubin wrote in prison, Stewart pieces together the secret history of his father's clandestine actions, which led to his court-martial. Unfolding through the eyes of father and son, the truth becomes a tantalizing mystery for readers to solve.

Stewart had always believed that his parents met when Dubin rescued his future wife from the horrors of the Balingen concentration camp. Stewart's research will lead him to a very different truth; he will discover that his father was there not as a liberator but to serve a warrant for the arrest of a wayward OSS officer named Robert Martin. Dubin had pursued Martin and his seductive cohort, Gita Lodz, through a series of daring escapades. Despite Martin's spectacular bravery with the French Resistance, Dubin's superiors think Martin is a Communist sympathizer.

Marked by high-caliber suspense and stirring dilemmas that capture the essence of love and war, Ordinary Heroes is a novel rich with topics for your reading group.

Discussion Questions
  1. Discuss the effect of the V-mails on the book's opening pages. What was it like to read David Dubin's eyewitness account through the "artifacts" that comprise much of the rest of the book? Do father and son have different perceptions of life in Ordinary Heroes?
  2. In chapter two, Dubin writes about his reasons for enlisting. What were his true motivations in going to war?
  3. What are Dubin's initial impressions of Staff Sergeant Bidwell? How does Biddy's perception of racism compare to Dubin's perception of it, both before and after Biddy makes his revelations about racial passing? What common ground do the two men share?
  4. How did your impressions of Robert Martin shift throughout the novel? Does Brigadier General Teedle give an accurate description of him before Dubin meets him for the first time?
  5. How would you characterize Stewart's meetings with Bear Leach? How would you have handled Stewart's requests if you had been in Justice Leach's position?
  6. What did you make of Corporal Bonner's comments about Teedle's sexuality in chapter eight? What would be the result of similar rumors in today's U.S. military?
  7. Is Gita's allure purely based on sex appeal? How do her attitudes toward men differ from her mother's?
  8. In chapter ten, Gita reveals that her mother was killed for harboring Jews. How does Dubin respond to her after this scene? What does it take for him to finally trust her?
  9. Chapter thirteen ends with Leach's recollection that Dubin feared his children would learn the truth about him. To what extent is it necessary to keep secrets from our descendants? To what extent is this harmful? Do you agree with the Talmud's aphorism, mentioned in the novel's first chapter, that a father should draw his son close with one hand and push him away with the other?
  10. How do the brutal December battles affect Dubin? How does he reconcile his roles as legal assistant and soldier after these scenes? What does he mean when he tells Grace he regrets being a "soldier in earnest," in his letter to her at the end of chapter twenty-seven?
  11. What did it take to transform Gita Lodz into Gilda/Gella Rosner? When did it become her dream to have an ordinary life?
  12. Was it unpatriotic of Martin to try to keep not only the Soviets but also the United States from securing knowledge of Germany's weapons of mass destruction? Were Martin's actions rational? Would you have let him escape?
  13. What is your understanding of the relationship between Gita and Martin? What does war teach Dubin about love? Would he have had much chance of a good marriage with Grace?
  14. How do Stewart's findings affect the dynamic of his family—his relationships with his sister and mother, and the memory of David Dubin?
  15. Scott Turow writes that although Ordinary Heroes is completely a work of his imagination, the initial inspiration came from his father, who was a field surgeon in Europe during World War II. What legacies of war exist in your family? What stories of heroism and mystery are part of your family history?
  16. What similarities and differences exist between Ordinary Heroes and Turow's other novels? From Turow's point of view, what are the makings of a hero?  

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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