Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Book
These tales weave around the idea of lovelove to seek and love to flee; love
as desire, as guilt, as confusion or self-betrayal; love as habit, as affair,
and as life-changing rebellion. With remarkable deftness, intelligence and
sensitivity, Schlink exposes the dark places of his characters' hearts and
minds as he follows them from the Berlin Wall to the foggy Oregon coast, from
Park Avenue to Central America. As his many fans know from The Reader
Schlink's power as a storyteller resides in his cool compassion and in the
moral intelligence that he wields like a laser to penetrate human motives and
behavior. Here his subject is not history but the heart itself, and in Flights
we find an assured and unforgettable view of love and its myriad
- "Girl with Lizard"
What gets in the way of the narrator's emotional life? What is the effect
of his parents' relationship upon his own relationships with women? Is it
surprising to learn that his own conception was the result of the rape of his
mother by his father? Why is the mother so assiduous in defending the husband
she didn't love or respect? What is the nature of the mother's moral
How does the narrator's obsession with the painting link him irrevocably
to his parents, and particularly to the crimes of his father? Toward the end of
the story the narrator realizes, "just as had been the case at home, the
painting was a treasure, a mystery, a window onto beauty and freedom, and at the
same time a commanding, controlling power to whom sacrifices would have to be
made" [p. 51]. Why does he burn the painting? Why does Schlink include the
revelation that the painting the boy and his father loved was a façade, a
- "A Little Fling"
What is the relationship between the wife's betrayal of her
husbandseducing their good friendand the husband's betrayal of his
wifegiving information to the Stasi, the East German secret police? Is one
betrayal ethically more acceptable than the other?
Why does Paula make love to the narrator? Despite the upheaval caused by
Sven's ill-judged desire to protect his wife and child, is his marriage still
quite stable? To what degree has the narrator been, all along, more naive than
either of his friends? How does this story expose the contamination of intimate
relationships by the culture of state-sponsored spying?
- "The Other Man"
What was the nature of the relationship between Lisa and Rolf? Why might
Lisa have been attracted to him?
Why is the daughter's angry evaluation of her father's habitual
self-absorption necessary for the reader's understanding of his marriage? Is
the narrator, newly retired from his work, driven to such lengths in his pursuit
of "the other man" mainly by revenge, jealousy, curiosity, or merely
Is Rolf merely a con-man, a showoff, a loser? What are the most striking
differences between his character and that of the narrator? Why does the
narrator decide not to humiliate Rolf at the dinner party? What does the
narrator ultimately learn about Rolf, and about himself?
- "Sugar Peas"
How does the title, taken from a poem by Heinrich Heine (see p. 162) relate
to the story as a whole? How does it relate particularly to the story's
ending, in which the three women each take what they want from Thomas in return
for taking care of him?
We are told, as he successfully balances his relationships with three
different women, Thomas "loved the high of a juggler who keeps adding more and
more rings to his act" [p. 160]. Thomas is successful in love, in his
professional life, in his creative life. To what degree is his strong ego the
key to his success in all aspects of his life? Is his self-satisfaction
well-founded, or is he merely deluding himself? Which elements make this story
so effective as a portrait of a narcissistic man?
Why does Thomas take on the disguise of a monk? What is the symbolic meaning
of the monk's robe for him? Is there a peculiar sort of justice in Thomas's
accident, his resulting paralysis, and the quiet triumph of the three women?
What is comic about the story, and particularly about the ending?
- "The Circumcision"
What is inherent in Uncle Aaron's question to Andi, "What did your
father do in the war?" [p. 198] How accurate is Andi's thought that once
Sarah's Jewish family knows he's German, "all else is irrelevant" [p.
201]? Why is their relationship more difficult for him than it is for her?
Is it strange that Andi thinks he can be circumcised without religious
ritual and without becoming a Jew? What does his circumcision mean to him? Why
does Sarah react as she does, and why is Andi so unhappy with her reaction? Why
does the story end as it does? Does the story's ending imply that the division
between Sarah and Andi had been irreparable?
- "The Son"
What is the political situation that is the story's framework? Why is it
significant that this is the first time the narrator has ever done anything
risky in the course of his career as a professor of international law?
The narrator is ashamed of the passivity with which he has conducted his
life. How is this related to his preoccupation with his son and his grief over
his failings as a father? How is the political plot related to the domestic one?
Is the ending ironic? Does it seem random? Or fated?
- "The Woman at the Gas Station"
Early in the story, the narrator notes that he worries that his dream of the
woman at the gas station "betrayed something about him" [p. 283]. In what
ways might the reader interpret this dream (or fantasy), and what does it betray
about the narrator?
Is the narrator courageous in leaving his wife in the effort to find
something that has been missing in his life? What does the story's ending
imply? Are we to assume that he'll return to the woman at the gas station or
In "The Woman at the Gas Station," the narrator thinks, "Doesn't
falling in love presume that you don't know the other person, that he or she
still has blank spaces onto which you can project your own desires . . . is
there love without projection?" [pp. 28990] Do other stories also express
this deep skepticism about the reality of love? Many of these stories revolve
around the elemental yearnings of their main charactersyearnings that usually
remain unfulfilled. Does Schlink imply that human desire and fulfillment are
All seven of the stories in this collection are written from the male point
of view. What does Schlink reveal about the hidden territories of the male
Two of the collection's most powerful stories deal with Jewish questions.
If you have read The Reader, how does the legacy of the Nazi past
interfere in similar ways with the life of the central character in "Girl with
Lizard" and "The Circumcision"?
Stephanie Baron et al., Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi
Germany; Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion
101 and the Final Solution in Poland; Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's
Willing Executioners; Peter Handke, Across; Ursula Hegi, Tearing
the Silence: Being German in America; Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear
Witness; Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being; Gila
Lustiger, The Inventory; Anne Michaels, The Fugitive; Robert Musil,
The Man Without Qualities; Irene Gut Opdyke, In My Hands; W. G.
Sebald, The Emigrants; Rachel Seiffert, The Dark Room; Hans-Ulrich
Treichel, Lost; Simon Wiesenthal, The Sunflower; Christa Wolf, The
Quest for Christa T.
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