Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- A central theme to the novel is surveillance and observation. How much of the story is left up to the reader's imagination? How does this create tension?
- Dan Vyleta says in his author's note: 'Sixty-five years after the Second World War it is easy for most of us to convince ourselves that we could never have belonged amongst those who would have held wrong-headed beliefs; it is a more nagging question to wonder what one might have done in order to secure more modicum and material success.' Discuss the moral stature of Professor Speckstein, Doctor Beer and Teuben in light of this comment.
- How does the novel convey a brutalisation and destruction of innocence? Discuss with particular reference to the experiences of Lieschen, Eva and Zuzka.
- 'Beer wondered for a moment what the neighbours made of this gutted building in their midst, then reminded himself that they were the same people who had witnessed the windows being smashed and the symbols being daubed and done nothing about it... some of them might even have lent a hand.' How effectively does Vyleta cast doubt over the neighbours in the apartment block?
Discuss in particular Otto, the Janitor, the laundry boy and Yuyu.
- Hitler is never openly mentioned in the novel, but he is alluded to: 'A radio voice drifted from
the window, angry and insistent... There were gestures to go with that voice, and a rectangle of black moustache.' To what extent is the readers' knowledge of history employed in building an atmosphere of threat?
- How do the factual asides at the beginning of each section tie in with the novel? Does the title of each section reflect the development of the plot?
- Within the novel Eva is referred to as the 'living dead', whilst the corpse of Tobias Grotter 'still clung to the memory of life'. How are the physical and mental states of life and death explored in the novel?
- 'All of a sudden he wished to hurry on the sun. "Things are prettier in the dark".' The action of the novel largely happens during the night, or behind closed doors and drawn curtains; what impact does this have?
- Vyleta oftens refers to his characters through a clinical lens, or as pieces of meat. Why do you think he dehumanises them in this way, and what is the effect on you, the reader?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Bloomsbury USA.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.