I hope THE HEIRS will spur hours of lively discussion, questions, and further reading. Here are some topics that might help book clubs and other groups get started:
A major theme of THE HEIRS is intergenerational guilt and reparations: If one generation committed acts that society now condemns (such as condoning lynchings in the South, or staying silent while Nazis beat up Jews in Europe), should the descendants of the victims hold the descendants of the perpetrators responsible in any way? Should the children of the perpetrators challenge their parents? Can the younger generations forgive, forget, and be friends? Different characters in the book answer these questions in various ways.
“You can’t blame her for anything her family might have done before she was born,” Natalie tells Eleanor, regarding Maria Wysocki, the Polish-Catholic mother of Eleanor’s son’s classmate.
But Mark, the soccer coach, sympathizes with Eleanor: “ ‘What were your parents doing during the war?’ ... How can you not think that?” he says to her, also referring to Maria.
What do you think? How should the younger generations deal with the sins of their ancestors?
Motivating Kids (Part One)
Adam is clearly reluctant to sign up for soccer. Do you agree or disagree with his parents’ decision to push him to play anyway?
Motivating Kids (Part Two)
Is the soccer situation different from Eleanor’s insistence that Kate have a bat mitzvah, which Kate resists just as strongly?
The novel takes place in fall 1999, when many people worried about the looming Y2K on December 31, 1999/January 1, 2000. What were your fears then, if any? Did you, for instance, shy away from making airplane reservations between December 30 and early January?
How Much Should Spouses Confess?
Eleanor doesn’t tell Nick about the fender-bender where she dents Frieda Strickland’s car in Chapter Six. What do you think Nick would have said if she had ‘fessed up at the time?
Knowing Your Family History (Part One)
Both Steven and Natalie urge Eleanor to stop pushing Rose to talk about her childhood. “I’ve gotten through forty-five years of life without knowing about Poland. What difference does it make after all this time?” Steven demands. How important is it for people to know their family history?
Knowing Your Family History (Part Two)
Did someone in your own family have a long-held secret that finally was revealed? Were the reactions as bad or judgmental as, perhaps, the secret-holder had feared?
Eleanor and Maria compare several Polish-Catholic, Jewish, and American cultural traditions, such as St. Andrew’s Eve in Poland and Halloween, or breaking the oplatki wafers on Christmas Eve in Poland and sharing challah on the Jewish Shabbat. Discuss traditions from other cultures that seem similar to some of the ones in the book.
The ability to speak a foreign language is also an ongoing theme in THE HEIRS. Eleanor tries to teach her French classes without using English; Rose refuses to speak Polish; Maria slips into Polish when she gets excited. What role do other languages play in your life? Do you speak a language besides English at home? Do you wish your parents had raised you bilingual? Should Americans be required to know English in order to be citizens?
Bonus (for those who have finished reading the book)
How many of you figured out in advance how Rose survived the Holocaust?
What were some other guesses?