Hannibal Free Public Library

A Thread of Grace

Mary Doria Russell

October 27, 2008

  About the book…
It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.

About the author…
In the process of earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees, Russell studied linguistics, genetics, anatomy, archaeology, and geology--all of which found their way into her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Sparrow. This novel goes in a different direction, exploring history and the impact of large events on individuals. 

About her choice to write about World War II and Italy, Ms Russell said: "I am a Jew by choice and Italian by heritage. The highest Jewish survival rate in Nazi-occupied Europe was in Italy! We’ve spent 60 years trying to understand what went wrong during the Holocaust. I wanted to know what went right in Italy."  (http://www.randomhouse.com)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you think of the fate of each character? Did you want the book to end differently? 
  1. What about Claudette’s choices? What would her father have thought of her marriage? 
  1. Claudette’s children never understand her, and she dies a mystery to them. Have you been affected by the war experiences of a family member? Were you aware of how their experiences affected them?
  1. What was your reaction to hearing that Claudette’s mother and brothers were put on a train heading east? 
  1. Does our own knowledge of World War II inform our reading of the novel?  How?
  1. People who did not live through World War II often believe they would have hidden someone like Anne Frank or helped refugees from Nazi Germany the way the Italian peasants did.  What would be an analogous risk today?
  1. We are accustomed to admiring the partisan resistance to German occupation during World War II. In today’s world, there are many places where armed resistance to occupying forces is called terrorism. What makes a resistance legitimate?  Does the motive of the occupying force make any difference?
  1. Renzo Leoni attempts to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation. Is moderation or neutrality possible or even desirable during war?
  1. What did you think of Renzo Leoni?  Does your impression of him change during the course of the novel? 
  1. What did you think of Dr. Schramm?  Were they right to hide him? 
  1. Does Renzo Leoni's wartime bombing of the Abyssinian hospital have a different moral value than Schramm's killings? How are Renzo and Werner Schramm alike?
  1. The title comes from a Hebrew saying: "No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of Grace.”  What does this mean in the story?  Is this the message the author is sending her readers?


Adapted from http://www.randomhouse.com and NOVELIST (http://hannibal.lib.mo.us/online_resources.htm).