Reading guide for They Went Left by Monica Hesse

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They Went Left

by Monica Hesse

They Went Left by Monica Hesse X
They Went Left by Monica Hesse
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2021, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Debbie Morrison
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Zofia wrestles with her own memories over the course of her search for Abek. How does the Sosnowiec of Zofia's memories compare to the Sosnowiec she returns to?
  2. How do physical possessions, particularly clothing, anchor Zofia and other characters to the present? To the past?
  3. Zofia speaks of the "small acts of defiance" braved by people in the camps (p. 209). How do characters assert their humanity in the face of the systematic Nazi efforts to dehumanize them?
  4. What role does storytelling play in preserving the legacy of survivors and their families? How do records of survivors' stories, both written and oral, inform Zofia's search for Abek?
  5. Zofia suggests that "the absence of pain is not the same as the presence of happiness" (p. 198). How do survivors move forward? What moments of happiness in the face of pain does Zofia witness or experience?
  6. What does family come to mean to Zofia and the other survivors she encounters? How does this definition change?
  7. What do different characters do to survive both during and after the war? How do they reckon with those actions as they recover? How does survivors' guilt affect them?
  8. In the aftermath of the war, what systems and forces rise up to establish order from the chaos? What are Zofia's experiences with these systems? How does Foehrenwald reflect the larger post-war state of Europe?
  9. Throughout the book, Zofia references the alphabet she embroidered on the inside of Abek's coat. How do the names and places that make up this alphabet persist in Zofia's memory? How does she distinguish truth in these memories from fabrications?
  10. In her author's note, Monica Hesse notes that "the war didn't end people's prejudice." What instances of anti-Semitism does Zofia encounter in her post-war journey?
  11. Do you resonate with any one particular character? Why?
  12. Do you see similarities between post-war Europe and our world today? How can we benefit from the knowledge of history?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Little Brown & Company. 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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  The Red Cross in World War II

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