Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide
"Touching [and] thrilling. . . . An impressive debut." - USA Today
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that
follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of April in Paris
, Michael Wallner's gripping novel about love and deception in Nazi-occupied
About This Book
What happens when a young translator for the Nazi SS in occupied Paris
decides he wants to spend his off-hours blending in with the locals, gives
himself a French identity, and falls in love with a beautiful resistance
fighter? This intriguing question is the premise for Michael Wallner's
extraordinary first novel, April in Paris.
Roth is a 21-year-old translator who has spent most of the war working in the
army's back offices in occupied Paris. But when SS interrogators learn of his
exceptional fluency in French his service takes a much darker turn. He is forced
to translate the answers provided by French prisoners suspected of helping the
resistance as they are brutally tortured. Roth tries to ignore the horrors of
what's happening in front of him and separate himself from his "work." Whenever
he can risk it, he dons his checkered civilian suit, removes all traces of his
German identity, and takes to the streets as Antoine. Ironically, it is his
facility with language that both forces him to witness torture and to be able to
shed his identity as a witness to torture. In Paris, he lets his penchant for
dreaminess carry him along, and soon he falls in love, at a distance, with
Chantal, the beautiful daughter of a bookseller. This proves to be even more
complicated than it might seem at first, when Chantal lures him to her father's
bookshop and into some serious questions about who he really is. Chantal and her
father are resistance fighters and suspect Roth of being a collaborator with the
The tensions that unfold as Roth tries to maintain two identities-Nazi soldier
and Parisian civilian-as well as a love affair with a woman dedicated to
destroying the German occupation, rise to a blistering intensity when an
explosion kills several SS officers in a club where Chantal works. Because Roth
appeared to have foreknowledge of the event, he is suspected of aiding the
resistance and soon finds himself facing the very same kind of interrogation he
has so often witnessed. By trying to play it safe, by not taking a clear stand,
neither siding with the resistance nor embracing his role as an occupier, Roth
finds himself in no man's land, completely unprotected.
Much of the novel concerns the fluid nature of identity-Roth and Chantal are
both actors, of a sort, both able to assume different masks and to deceive
others about their true intentions. But April in Paris
has much to say as
well about the nature of loyalty, the horrors of torture, the fate of love
during war, and the consequences that can befall a man when pretending to be
someone other than he is takes precedence over knowing and following his
- Scores of novels and nonfiction books have been written about World War
II. In what ways is April in Paris distinctive? What aspects of the war
does it bring to light that other works haven't fully explored?
- Though April in Paris is set during World War II, in what ways does
it illuminate the use of torture in our own time?
- How does Roth feel about his job as translator of prisoner interrogations?
Why does he feel compelled to risk so much in order to assume the identity of a
- After he is arrested, Roth comes to a searing realization: "I was a coward
who didn't dare make his opposition public. Leibold's brutish corporals were
clearer about their convictions than I was about mine" [p. 193]. Is this an
accurate self-assessment? What are the consequences of Roth's "cowardice"? How
might he have made his opposition public?
- Roth tells Hirschbiegel, "First something happens . . . . Some random
thing. Then the next thing happens. And then the next . . . . One thing after
another, deeper and deeper" [p. 86]. What does this statement reveal about
Roth's attitude toward life and his own sense of agency? How would Chantal
likely regard such a view?
- Why does Roth fall in love with Chantal? Does Chantal love him in return,
or is she merely using him?
- Roth watches a one-armed man mow the grass with a scythe and asks SS
officer Leibold: "How long do you suppose it took him to learn to use that
scythe with one arm?" Liebold offers a sardonic reply: "War is the mother of
invention" [p. 33]. In what ways is Leibold's statement true? What kinds of
inventions did World War II inspire? What does this statement reveal about
Leibold's sensibility and the Nazi sensibility in general?
- Michael Wallner is an actor and a screenwriter as well as a novelist. What
scenes in April in Paris seem especially cinematic? In what ways are both
Roth and Chantal actors?
- How do the stories of love and war in April in Paris intersect and
illuminate each other?
- Rieleck-Sostmann tells Roth, "You're a dreamer, Corporal. You're out of
step with the times" [p. 40]. Is this true? In what sense is he "a dreamer"? In
what ways is he unrealistic, or given to dangerously improbable fantasies?
- What role does identity play in the novel? How does Roth try to shed his
true identity? How does Chantal herself play with different identities or
disguises? Does the novel seem to be making some larger point about the fluidity
- Discuss the irony-and the terror-of Roth's being a translator during
brutal interrogations and then having to undergo the same tortures he has
witnessed being done to others.
- How does Wallner create and sustain suspense throughout the novel?
- Near the end of the novel, Roth thinks to himself, "I had learned
everything and understood nothing" [p. 242]. What does he mean by this? What has
he learned? What has he failed to understand?
Louis de Bernières, Corelli's Mandolin; Günter Grass, The Tin Drum;
Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River; Pam Jenoff, The Kommandant's
Girl; Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain; Bernhard Schlink, The Reader; Elie Wiesel,
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.