Book Group Discussion Guide

"Hidden Lives formed the basis for a wonderful book club discussion on family, ancestors and past secrets. How do the secrets from generations back affect us today?" Mimi on Amazon

"Perfect for book clubs, since I think everyone will identify with the quest for understanding the importance of knowing and loving your ancestors." Judy on Amazon

If your book group would like to discuss Hidden Lives , here are some questions to get you started:

1. The author has chosen to tell the stories of her grandmothers as non-fiction even though she does not know all the details of their lives. She uses fictional techniques and imagines episodes in their lives in several places (for example, pp 34-38; pp 227-228). Is this method successful?

2. What do you think of the structure of the book? What role do the three Codas play? (Shalom, p92; Auf Wiedersehen, p164; Ciao, p241)

3. Did the book tell you anything new about New York City immigrant life in the early 20th century? Which of the three neighborhoods seemed most interesting to you? Why?

4. What do you think of Margaretha? What kind of a woman do you think she was?

5. What do you think about Minnie and Benjamin, her Jewish grandparents? Do you think theirs is a love story to remember or simply a sad but typical immigrant experience?

6. If the author had known as a small child about her Jewish heritage, do you think it would have made a difference in her choice of religion?

7. The book is not just family stories. The author also brings up some controversial issues. For instance, the secrecy surrounding her mother’s adoption records. Forty states still keep adoption records closed by law. Several others allow limited access. Do you think adoptees should have access to their birth and adoption records?

8. Were you aware of large mental institutions like Central Islip State Hospital? How? From books? Film? A neighborhood experience? How does the author’s description compare with your impressions?

9. Why do you think the author’s parents kept these secrets for all those years? Why did her father finally end up telling her? How do you feel about the author revealing truths her mother chose to keep secret?

10. What do you think about keeping secrets in families? Is it ever OK to break them open? If so when and why?

11. The author quotes Simone Weil (p95): “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Do you agree?