Reading Group Questions and Topics for Discussion

  1. In the prologue there is a bombing, a birth, and a nightmare harkening back to the Holocaust. After reading the prologue, did you have any sense that the lives of the families may be intertwined?
  2. Describe how life changed for the Polish Jews throughout the course of WWII. In what ways, if any, was their plight different from that of other European Jews?
  3. In what ways was the Stein family different from the Gale family? What did they have in common? What differences did they have? Why might it be difficult for children from these two families to form a romantic relationship?
  4. When the reader meets Natalie Gale, Joseph’s mother, she has essentially renounced her Jewish heritage. Later she has a complete reversal. How do the circumstances of her life lead her back to her faith? What is the end result?
  5. Who would you say is the cornerstone of each family? How do these people hold their families together?
  6. Do believe in “love at first sight”? Do you believe that is what Ester and Joseph experienced? In what ways is their bond unusual? When first reading about their relationship and marriage, do you believe they are strong enough to survive the challenges ahead? Why?
  7. How might the lives of Ester and Joseph been different if they had escaped from Warsaw prior to the start of the war?
  8. Are there any humanistic characteristics seen in the Nazi SS officers? What are they? The war also leads many Polish Jews to commit illegal acts, including murder. In your opinion, are some crimes more acceptable than others in given situations? Explain. Later in the novel the reader is again confronted with this essential question concerning the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians. Consider the same question for this group. How are the situations similar? In what was are they different?
  9. What elements of Demetrius’ childhood and young adult life do you think helped shape him into the man he became?
  10. The events at Karameh hold long lasting effects for both Demetrius and all Palestinians. In what ways are the events at Karameh a victory and a defeat for both the Palestinians and for Demetrius?
  11. After Karameh, Demetrius is seen as a hero. How does Demetrius feel about this role? When his family and friends try to convince him he should be a part of the Fatah Demetrius says; “I have made a separate peace with the Jews.” What do you think he means by this statement? How does this statement take on deeper meaning at the end of Part 2?
  12. Amin was a valued friend of the Antoun family. He is also viewed as slightly eccentric due to his insistence that his long dead wife is still alive. In what ways can Amin’s reluctance to let go of his wife symbolize the Palestinian’s situation?
  13. In a past conversation remembered later by Christine, George says to her; “The German persecution of the Jews desensitized those Jews who survived the Holocaust, rather than sensitized them… Sadly, history proves this is often the case, that many victims, after suffering terrible tragedies, are inexplicably driven to inflict pain and suffering on their own perceived enemies…You are a link in this chain, Christine. The Jews brutalized by your people are now brutalizing my people.” Do you agree with George’s reasoning? If this cycle did exist, what may this mean for the Palestinians?
  14. Christine, currently working as a nurse in Palestine, is a German daughter of a former Nazi SS officer. How does Christine’s unique family history and the history of the entire Arab/ Jewish conflict put her in a very unique position?
  15. What continuing struggles will Demetrius face concerning his ethnic background?
  16. Who is Anna Taylor? What role does she play to the Gale family? How is her perspective different as an American Christian?
  17. What do you think of Christine and Michele’s relationship? Do you believe that what that started with hate and fear can develop into a healthy and loving relationship? What are the implications of their relationship for their families?
  18. Do you think Jordan Gale’s attraction to Demetrius has anything to do with his ethnicity? Explain.
  19. What did Friedrich hope to accomplish by bringing the books to Jerusalem? Did they have the impact he had hoped for? Why may this be? Do you think that Friedrich found closure to his experiences of WWII? If not, can he ever? Why do you think Eva tries to tell of her own suffering? Was Rachel right to discount her experiences?
  20. Demetrius finds a caged bird at Anna Taylor’s home. What do you think is the significance of his actions with the bird?
  21. Pick several characters central to the novel (one from each side of the conflict). For each character discuss the following questions. What are the roots of their feelings towards members of the other groups? Would you consider these feelings to be hatred? If not, how would you describe them? Are these feelings justified? Explain.

A Brief Interview with the Author

Question: What drove you to write a book about the complex and emotional subject of the holocaust and the subsequent Jewish/Arab conflict?

Jean Sasson: From childhood, I loved reading. When I was around 15 years old, I saved my money to start my “book collection.” While browsing the Columbus, Georgia store that sold books, I decided to buy the one with the most pages, and walked out with “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” by William Shirer, in my bag! I read and re-read this book many times throughout my teenage years. From that time, I was emotionally attached to the horrific drama of the holocaust. Then, as a young woman, I traveled to live and work in Saudi Arabia, which provided me with the opportunity to get to know many Arabs. Later, I married into a Jewish family. These combined experiences with Jews and Arabs created a genuine emotional involvement in the Jewish/Arabic conflict. I always knew I’d write a book about two families, one Jewish and one Arab, and bring them together in some way. I’ve done this in Ester’s Child.

Question: What was your main goal in covering such varied history over a relatively long period of time?

Jean Sasson: That’s easy to answer. How can anyone understand anything about the current conflict without knowing something about pre-holocaust history of European Jews and pre-Israel history of Palestinian Arabs? With this in mind, I began the story of these two families from the time of pre-holocaust Poland and France and pre-Israel Palestine. Of course, to do this created a lot of history and fairly lengthy time-line.

Question: One of the most amazing facets of this book is how you were able to cover all sides of this historical conflict without seeming biased. Was this intentional, or did it come about as the story unfolded? If it was intentional, what did you have to do to create the novel in such a way that all sides seemed valid?

Jean Sasson: I assure you, this unbiased book was not intentionally written with that in mind. The story unfolded in an unbiased manner because it reflects my own feelings about Jewish people, and about Arabic people. I’ve never met anyone that I disliked because of their religion or nationality. I always judge by the kindness of the individual. If I’m going to be honest, I must admit that I’ve been accused of having stars in my eyes by both sides of this conflict, but I honestly believe that most ordinary people are truly good and are looking for a way out of conflict. Having said this, I know how difficult this can be. For Example, all you have to do is look peek into the lives of regular families to see paranoid behavior and unexplained hatred from one sibling to the other. So it is not a surprise that this ages-old conflict is so difficult to be resolved. Actually, I have many Jewish friends who tell me that they squirm when reading certain parts of the book when the Jewish government, or certain Jewish characters are portrayed as less than perfect. On the other side, I’ve had the same response from some of my Arab friends. If I’ve learned nothing else in 56 years of living, it is that mistakes are made by every human being, and by every government. My wish is that people and governments could simply admit such mistakes, brush themselves off, and reach for a better solution. Unfortunately, that’s not too common. People and governments have a hard time changing their emotional routines.

Question: How did you develop the characters and plot? Were any of the characters based on people you have met in your travels?

Jean Sasson: It took me three years to write Ester’s Child and although I knew the basis of my story, and how I wanted it to end, the plot evolved with the writing. As far as the characters based on people: Actually no, although certain traits of past and present friends might have worked their way into a few of the characters.

Question: What is your favorite part of the book?

Jean Sasson: I’ve got two favorite parts: 1) When Demetrius is describing the beauty of Palestine to the little baker, Amin, and Amin is taken back into time, remembering his youth and time there. We all look back, savoring and remembering wonderful moments in our lives. But with Amin, it is even more touching. 2) The very end of the book, when the family comes together, showing that true miracles are all around us.

Question: If you were to write a sequel, what might it look like?

Jean Sasson: No doubt, I’d jump into the lives of the next generation, Demetrius and Jordan and Michel and Christine, and bring them and their families from 1982 into and through the current situation, with all of the political and war dramas intermingled in their lives, which is happening TODAY, even as we speak, with Jews and Arabs living in Israel and Palestine.

Interview with Jean Sasson
And Reading Guide Questions by:
Joelle Broberg
Educational Consultant

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