Reading guide for Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum

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Atomic Anna

by Rachel Barenbaum

Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum X
Atomic Anna by Rachel Barenbaum
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2022, 448 pages

    Mar 7, 2023, 464 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. At the beginning of Atomic Anna, Yulia and Lazar believe that "we can be anything in America." Discuss the reasons why they buy into this and the way this belief changes for them over time. What do these characters want for themselves and for Molly?
  2. The idea of assimilation is a strong thread throughout the novel and is present for every character. What effect does this assimilation have on Anna's, Yulia's, Molly's, and Raisa's lives? Discuss how the idea of assimilation is relevant in your life or in today's landscape.
  3. Throughout Atomic Anna, Molly and Anna both struggle with the intersections of their identities—Soviet, Jewish, and, in Molly's and Raisa's case, American. Describe the ways their identities are in flux or conflict with each other. Have you experienced something similar?
  4. Many characters in Atomic Anna try to protect their loved ones through silence or by telling them lies and half-truths. Challenges then arise when their falsehoods are discovered. What do you think the novel is saying about the ways that families communicate?
  5. This novel is full of complex parent-child, especially mother-daughter, relationships. Discuss the ways each generation carries the trauma of the past, the ways they pass it along, and the ways they try to undo those hurts.
  6. Molly has always been drawn to the creativity of art. Meanwhile, her daughter, Raisa, finds a similar joy in the world of mathematics. Discuss the tension between the arts and sciences in Atomic Anna. Are there pursuits in your own life that give you a sense of freedom and purpose?
  7. Compare Anna's, Molly's, and Raisa's romantic relationships with Yasha, Viktor, and Daniel. What are the similarities that echo in each pairing and where do they diverge? Which ones are more manipulative than healthy?
  8. Xenia's bear necklace is a recurring image in the novel—"a bear at peace and a bear at war." How does it relate to the story's themes? What does the necklace mean to each of the main characters?
  9. Discuss the role of intention and morality in this novel. For instance, does it matter that Anna harnesses nuclear power intending to use it for good rather than as a weapon? Do original intentions matter?
  10. The characters of this novel grapple with the questions of time travel and whether just because you can change the past, does it mean you should. If you had this power, what would you do? Should anyone have the power to change the past?

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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grand Central Publishing. 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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