Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. Renzo and Schramm have both committed crimes against civilians during war, but the priest Don Osvaldo feels there is some essential difference between the two men’s actions. Is the difference merely a matter of scale, or is there an ethical difference? Does your emotional response to each character color your opinion?
2. Renzo attempts to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation. Was that a moral position or should he have fought the Nazis from the beginning? Is moderation or neutrality possible or even desirable during war?
3. 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?
4. 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?
5. Was Iacopo Soncini a bad husband or a good rabbi? How does having a family change the responsibilities of the clergy?
6. Imagine that you heard Schramm’s confession at the beginning of the book. If you were Don Osvaldo, what would you have told Schramm? Are there unforgivable sins?
7. Was Schramm’s remorse genuine at the end of the book? Why did he put his uniform back on when he was ordered to by the German officer at the hospital?
8. How would you feel about a moral universe where Schramm went to heaven and Renzo went to hell?
9. People who didn’t live through World War II often believe they’d 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