1. Dreams are a recurring theme in the novel. What are Lillian’s dreams, both literal and metaphorical? How do these illustrate or inform the larger subject of the American dream?
2. Much of the novel centers around self-invention and -reinvention. Can you identify some characters who reinvent themselves over the course of the novel? Which characters are successful? Which characters are unable to complete the process?
3. According to folktales, “when you save the golden fish, the turbaned djinn, the talking cat, he is yours forever” (p. 43). Which characters in the novel are saved, in one way or another? Which characters do the saving?
4. “Not that she is mine.That I am hers,”Lillian says,describing her love for Sophie (p. 79). In many ways, love is the primary engine of the plot. How does love define, inspire, and compel characters in the novel? What are some of the things characters do for love? Do you think that love is portrayed in the novel as a wholly positive force?
5. Contrast Yaakov’s story with Lillian’s. How do they each handle the loss of spouse and children, and how are they changed?
6. During Lillian’s journey, there are key points at which she is required to identify herself as either a native or a foreigner, insider or outsider. Can you point out some of these moments? At the end of the novel, how complete is Lillian’s assimilation?
7. Relationships among family members, particularly parents and children, play an important role in the novel. Compare and contrast the relationships between Lillian and Sophie, Reuben and Meyer, Chinky and the Changs. What is distinct about each family? Are there similarities?
8. How are sexuality and physical love portrayed in the novel? Consider Lillian’s relationship with the Bursteins, Chinky’s relationship with Mrs. Mortimer, and Gumdrop’s relationship with Snooky Salt, as well as Lillian’s relationship with John Bishop and Chinky’s relationship with Cleveland Munson.
9. What kind of person is Lillian? What do we learn, throughout the novel, about her passions and prejudices? Do you think Lillian is right when she says that she is lucky (p. 4)?
10. The metaphors and descriptive images in this novel are unique. Can you point out a few effective metaphors that helped the novel come alive for you as a reader?