As part of Bas Bleu’s 2015 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions, author interviews, or other bonus materials to enrich your reading experience—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
It’s probably safe to say that few, if any, of us know what it’s like to be forced to abandon the people and homeland we love to save our own lives. Yet during World War II, countless people did just that, many of them Jews persecuted during the Nazis’ Third Reich. In this month’s Book a Month selection, Crossing the Borders of Time, an American journalist delves deep into her family’s past to investigate her Jewish mother’s wartime experiences, particularly her star-crossed relationship with a young Catholic man. (You may also enjoy this 2012 interview with Maitland from PBS’s News Hour, but beware spoilers!)
1. What was the impetus that began Leslie Maitland’s search for her mother’s long-lost lover? Do you have any unanswered questions about your family’s past?
2. How are Roland and Leonard different from each other, and how does Hanna/Janine’s memory of Roland affect her relationship with her husband? Do you think she shared too much information with her husband and her children about her romantic past?
3. Crossing the Borders of Timeis deeply rooted in World War II history and the Holocaust. How does Leslie Maitland use Janine’s story to reflect the differing attitudes toward the rise of Nazism, anti-Semitism, and various other prejudices? Did you learn anything about WWII history that you didn’t know before?
4. In 1989, the Maitland family returned to Freiburg, where Jewish former citizens were invited to return to their birthplace. What do you think about this attempt at reconciliation or atonement? What did you think of their encounters on this and later trips with figures from the family’s past?
5. After fleeing France, the Günzburger family was exiled and displaced in Cuba, before eventually gaining entry into the United States. Were you surprised to learn that the United States accepted so few refugees from Hitler-dominated Europe and that Leonard felt obliged to change his last name in response to anti-Semitism in American business circles?
6. What did you think of Janine’s relationship with her family – of her decision to remain in New York after the war rather than return to France, and of her silent acceptance of Sigmar’s and Norbert’s efforts to thwart her marrying Roland?
7. Roland and Janine were separated and reunited through a mixture of historical and personal forces. How do you think their separation altered their perceptions of each other, and of love in general? How did you react to the difficult compromises that they made at the ending? What solution to their situation would you have advised for them?