Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions and topics for discussion
Although Dr. Delaney doesnt 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?
Dr. Delaney has had a difficult life. How does Delaneys past haunt him
in the present? To what degree do you think he has healed by the end of the
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?
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 Roses personality
contrasts with Delaneys? What effect does her presence have on him?
Many of the characters in North River are recent immigrants. In Hamills
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?
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?
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 Delaneys life?
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
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
As with millions of other Americans, Delaneys 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?
Many characters in this novel are tough, without being mean. Has such a
quality vanished from todays life in America?
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 todays 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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