Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Renzo and Schramm have both committed crimes against civilians during
war, but the priest Don Osvaldo feels there is some essential difference
between the two men's actions. Is the difference merely a matter of scale,
or is there an ethical difference? Does your emotional response to each
character color your opinion?
- Renzo attempts to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation. Was that
a moral position or should he have fought the Nazis from the beginning? Is
moderation or neutrality possible or even desirable during war?
- We are accustomed to admiring the partisan resistance to German
occupation during World War II. In today's world there are many places where
armed resistance to occupying forces is called terrorism. What makes a
resistance legitimate? Does the motive of the occupying force make any
- Claudette's children never understand her, and she dies a mystery to
them. Have you been affected by the war experiences of a family member? Were
you aware of how their experiences deformed them?
- Was Iacopo Soncini a bad husband or a good rabbi? How does having a
family change the responsibilities of the clergy?
- Imagine that you heard Schramm's confession at the beginning of the
book. If you were Don Osvaldo, what would you have told Schramm? Are there
- Was Schramm's remorse genuine at the end of the book? Why did he put his
uniform back on when he was ordered to by the German officer at the
- How would you feel about a moral universe where Schramm went to heaven
and Renzo went to hell?
- People who didn't live through World War II often believe they'd have
hidden someone like Anne Frank or helped refugees from Nazi Germany the way
the Italian peasants did. What would be an analogous risk today?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.