THE WHOLENESS OF A BROKEN HEART
By Katie Singer
Published by Riverhead Books / Penguin Putnam
Now Available in Paperback!

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Reading Guide for Group Discussion

  1. What does the title mean to you?
  2. In trying to understand what her relationship with her mother has given her, Hannah says, "I needed to see that neither mothering nor loving has its source in the woman who gave birth to me." What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her?
  3. What qualities does Celia receive from her mother and grandmothers? What qualities does Hannah receive?
  4. How does the institution of marriage change through the generations of this family? How do peoples' expectations of marriage change?
  5. Channa notes that the Ten Commandments don't instruct us to love or obey our parents, but to honor them. What's the difference between loving, honoring, and obeying? How could a daughter or son who does not love her or his parents express honor?
  6. Katie Singer has said that in writing her novel, she noticed the juxtaposition, in the early thirties, of the beginning of an unprecedented rise in many American Jews' standard of living with the beginning of the annihilation of the Old World. How is each generation in this family affected by the pogroms? By the Holocaust? How is the family affected by the acquisition of wealth? Do you think the acquisition of wealth juxtaposed to the Holocaust affects them?
  7. After witnessing her children murdered by Nazis from her vantage point in the Other World, Leah waits for them to join her; but they don't. She wonders, "when a soul dies by fire or gunshot, does it go to the Other World a different way? Does it go to yet another world?" How might you answer Leah's questions?
  8. Ida says, "A woman can carry a whole world." How are the women's lives in America easier and/or harder than the lives of women in the Old Country? Given the characters in this novel, how would you define a strong woman?
  9. After Leah asks Raisl to have sex with the Cossack so that Moishe could leave Latvia a free man, she wonders, "If one good deed leads to another, where would an aveyre lead -- a sin such as this?" How does Leah's action alter the course of her son's life? Of Raisl's? Can you trace the results of Leah's action in the family's later generations?
  10. What connections do you see between the cover image and the novel?

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