For Book Clubs
Thank you so much for your interest in Quiet Americans!
Erika Dreifus would be delighted to connect with your book club by phone or via Skype. If your group has six or more participants, you may sign up to have Erika join your discussion of Quiet Americans.
To sign up, please contact Erika via this website, with the words “Book Club” in your subject line. In your message, please indicate: 1) the number of people in your group; 2) the phone number and/or Skype address at the location where your group will meet and 3) the city/state where the discussion will take place.
Please also give three potential dates and times when Erika might join your discussion (please specify the time zone). Erika will do her best to honor your first-choice selection.
Please plan to have your group discuss the book first; Erika will join your discussion for 20 minutes to answer your questions. Please keep this in mind when you list the time(s) you’d like her to call in–the times that you suggest should correspond to when you would like her to call in, not the initial meeting-time for the group.
Whether you’ll be inviting Erika to join you or not, here are some questions that you may find helpful in guiding your group’s discussion of Quiet Americans.
- Which characters seem to you to most resemble “Quiet Americans”? How does their “quietness” affect plot points and/or other characters in their respective stories? On the other hand, are there characters that impress you as decidedly “unquiet”? What is their impact?
- Which character(s) do you feel closest to? Why?
- In many respects, the stories in Quiet Americans are “Jewish” stories. They feature Jewish characters and families; they incorporate Jewish ritual and Hebrew and Yiddish words; they are attentive to Israel; and in drawing inspiration from the author’s own family history—particularly the experiences of her paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s—they are, in a sense, an authorial response to the Judaic imperative to remember (zachor). Are these stories Jewish in any other ways? What is their accessibility to or relevance for readers who aren’t Jewish?
Questions on Specific Stories:
- In “For Services Rendered,” we learn that Klara Weldmann had “wanted to leave Germany for years, already. [Ernst] was the one reluctant to abandon the land of his ancestors.” Later, in “Mishpocha,” a member of the Second Generation online discussion group to which David Kaufmann belongs wonders why his own father’s family didn’t flee “when the Germans were on their doorstep” and receives this response from another participant: “‘It was their home. What can move you to leave your home?” Can you imagine any circumstances that might compel you to leave your home(land)? What might they be?
- “Matrilineal Descent” concludes with the information that Emma Gross was “für tot erklärt seit 30 Oktober 1940,” or assumed dead since the day she was deported (to an extermination camp). How did you react to the news of this character’s fate?
- Why might the author have chosen “Lebensraum” to title a story set in Iowa in 1944?
- A significant portion of “Homecomings” involves the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. If you remember this event, what are your recollections? If you know the history only through books, films, etc., how does the portrayal in “Homecomings” compare?
- “Floating” is the first of the stories in Quiet Americans to be set in the 21st century, and unlike the three stories that precede it, “Floating” does not include members of the Freiburg family among its characters. How does “Floating” connect—thematically or otherwise—with the rest of the book? In a broader sense, how do the seven stories work as distinct and individual pieces, and how do they work combined to form a single book?
- In “The Quiet American, Or How to Be a Good Guest,” a Jewish-American granddaughter of refugees from Nazi Germany travels to her grandparents’ native country in the summer of 2004. She reflects: “You are an American. You are a grown-up. What’s to worry about? Even now, even this summer of 2004, when your own homeland needs security, and every time you watch the news you’re afraid you’ll hear about another suicide bombing on a bus in Israel.” What do these sentiments suggest about complexities of Jewish-American identity in the 21st century?
- “Mishpocha” concludes with David Kaufmann reaching out to a newly-discovered genetic relative. What do you envision happening after David’s message is received? (If you’d like, why not try to write the next scene?)
Thank you again for your interest in Quiet Americans. If you’re so inclined, please share your thoughts about the book in a review on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, or your book site of choice. Help others learn about Quiet Americans, and encourage them to read the book!