Discussion Questions by Litlovers:
Noa gives her newborn away but remains bereft by the loss and tormented by visions of the child. What do you make of her decision?
2. In her own voice, Noa tells us...
I am unfamiliar with infants and I hold him at arm's length now, like a dangerous animal. But he moves closer, nuzzling against my neck.
Talk about the horror of that scene in the "nursery car" (which is historically accurate). What prompts Noa to save a half-dead?
3.What do you make of Astrid, whose voice alternates with Noa's? How has her tumultuous past shaped her character, especially in terms of her ability to trust others?
4. Talk about the development of the Noa and Astrid's relationship, on the ropes and off.
5. Author Pam Jenoff conducted considerable research into Jewish circus dynasties, which has enabled her to provide the grainy details of circus life. What do you find interesting or what, in particular, strikes you about life under the tent?
6. Talk about the symbolic use of the circus with its twinkling lights as a foil to the darkness and terror of the Nazi era.
7. What do you make of the novel's other characters—Herr Neuhoff, or Peter, for instance. In what way do they demonstrate courage in the face of danger, brutality, and evil?
- Discussion Questions by Jewish Book Council: Note: The questions here are intended as a supplement to those that appear in the back of the book. Additionally, the questions below do contain spoilers!
1. The majority of characters in this story, if not Jews themselves, are, in some way, what we now call “righteous gentiles.” How does this affect the tone of the story? Why do you think the author made that choice?
2. Why do you think Astrid is against Herr Neuhoff taking Noa in, when she herself is being sheltered by the circus (p. 51)?
3. Why won’t Astrid speak to Peter about his act, even as it jeopardizes her own safety? Why does Peter insist on performing an act that he knows could put himself, the circus, and those who are hiding there in danger?
4. Astrid muses that Theo calling Noa “Mama” seemed like a betrayal to the mother from whom he was stolen (p. 157). How do you reconcile that with Astrid’s role at the end of the book? Do you feel that Astrid also being Jewish changes the situation in any way?
5. What is the significance of Astrid singing her childhood lullabies to Theo (p. 157, and see Related Media below for the words to “Raisins and Almonds”)? Do you think those two songs were chosen for particular reasons?
6. The clockmaker tells Astrid, “We cannot change who we are. Sooner or later we will all have to face ourselves” (p. 159). What do you think he meant by that? How does that statement apply to other characters in the book? Do you think Metz ends up
“facing himself” or not?