Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Institutions loom large in the book, from public school (which is the
equivalent of private school in the US), to the Communist party, to the
Catholic Church. How do the main characters reinforce and/or defeat them?
- Bernie begins the book as a devoted Communist, yet eventually becomes
disillusioned with its ideology. Disillusionment with the Catholic Church
also plays a large role in the book. Why does the author juxtapose the two?
What are the dangers of ideology?
- The threat of approaching winter permeates the book. What does the cold
weather symbolize? Why did the author choose to set the book during the
- Each of the books main characters is tempted by corruption and bribery.
Is corruption a by-product of war? Can corruption ever be positive?
- Bernie is a fervent believer in communism and also an atheist. Yet in
the labor camp, he is threatened by the power-hungry Estalbo, a fellow
prisoner and Communist, and shown kindness by Father Eduardo, a Catholic
priest. Why did the author choose to upend Bernies perceived notions of
good and bad? What does Bernie learn about kindness and cruelty?
- How does Harrys parentless background and experiences at Dunkirk shape
his character? Is his reluctance to spy on Sandy justified?
- Have you read any other novels about the Spanish Civil War? How does
this book compare?
- Bernie and Sandy are very different characters, yet Barbara forms a
relationship with both of them. What draws her to each? Is her relationship
with Sandy believable? Why or why not?
- Harry, Sandy and Bernie are all classmates at Rookwood, but each of them
has a vastly different experience at the school. Why did the author choose
to connect Sandy, Harry and Bernie in this way? How do their experiences at
Rookwood define them as characters?
- How do you feel about the books conclusion?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.