Reading guide for North River by Pete Hamill

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North River

A Novel

By Pete Hamill

North River
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2007,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2008,
    368 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Questions and topics for discussion

  1. Although Dr. Delaney doesn’t always let it show, he appears to be under great stress from his work. How does he cope with this emotional strain? Why do you think Delaney feels compelled to help people as he does, despite the additional burden it places on him?
  2. Dr. Delaney has had a difficult life. How does Delaney’s past haunt him in the present? To what degree do you think he has healed by the end of the novel?
  3. Why does Grace leave Carlos with Delaney? Do you feel her actions are justified by her explanation? What role do you think her relationship with her own father played in this decision?
  4. At one point in the novel Knocko calls Rose "a real hoodlum" (page 74). What do you think he means by this? How do you think Rose’s personality contrasts with Delaney’s? What effect does her presence have on him?
  5. Many of the characters in North River are recent immigrants. In Hamill’s portrait of these immigrants, how is their role in the New York City of the Depression era similar to or different from the role of immigrants in American society today?
  6. In his writings, Pete Hamill is known for painting portraits of life in New York City. How does New York itself emerge as a character in North River? To what degree are the time period and setting crucial to the story?
  7. What is the significance of the North River in the novel? How does the imagery the author uses evolve over the course of the story? Do you think it is an apt metaphor for Delaney’s life?
  8. How does popular culture — movies, music, the radio — function in this novel? And what role was played in the world of this novel by the daily newspapers?
  9. How does Delaney balance his various duties — to his country, to friends, and to his neighborhood — with his own personal desires and love for his family? Do you think he balances them successfully? If not, where do you believe he makes more sacrifices than he should? What might you have done differently?
  10. As with millions of other Americans, Delaney’s life was permanently changed by serving in a foreign war. Do you see any parallels to veterans of Vietnam, or of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
  11. Many characters in this novel are tough, without being mean. Has such a quality vanished from today’s life in America?
  12. One presence in this novel has in fact vanished: the big city political machine. Such machines were often corrupt but did play important roles in urban life — for example, in handling the arrival of immigrants in large numbers. Are there any lessons here for today’s world?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Back Bay Books. 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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