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Exodus Reader’s Guide

By Deborah Feldman

Exodus by Deborah Feldman


Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Discuss the epigraph by Anna Margolin that begins Exodus. How does it set the tone for the book? 

2. The opening scene of Exodus shows Feldman in a hypnotherapy session, visualizing episodes of childhood trauma in an attempt to understand her sexual dysfunction. How does Feldman’s pursuit of sexual health and satisfaction echo throughout the book? How does this search shape her identity and self-image? 

3. On page 19, Feldman states that the Satmar Hasidic community in which she grew up was a “culture of violence, not necessarily because members fetishize it, but because of the group’s only inheritance is the violence of European and anti-Semitism that culminated in the Second World War.” How does the shared cultural memory of the Holocaust affect Feldman as she attempts to shape her life outside of the Satmar community?

4. On page 37, Feldman discusses her choice to move from New York City to “the middle of nowhere.” Discuss the concept of “home” as articulated throughout the book. Where does Feldman feel most comfortable? What aspects of that environment allow Feldman to take root?

5. In the section “Mercy,” Feldman reveals that her mother has also left the Hasidic lifestyle, and that “working menial jobs to put herself through college constituted her final rejection” of the community. What value does Feldman place on education throughout the book? How does education play a role in escaping the Hasidic community?

6. Discuss the Biblical figure of Deborah, as explored in “Inheritance.” What is the significance of Feldman sharing a name with this figure?

7. How does Feldman view the role of motherhood? What does she hope to achieve for her son? Discuss Feldman’s relationship with her own mother, who was exiled from the community. 

8. The desire to articulate self-identity is a driving theme in Exodus. What labels does Feldman feel most comfortable associating with herself?

9. Though several years have passed since Feldman has last seen her grandmother, she has an indelible effect on Feldman’s life outside of the community. How does her grandmother’s status as a Holocaust survivor affect Feldman? Discuss the scene in which Feldman remembers her grandmother’s garden. How does this scene act as metaphor for life within the Satmar community?

10. On page 106, Feldman comments that she feels markedly different from her peers, even during the simple act of smoking a cigarette. At what moments is this gulf most pronounced? How does the idea of the “presentation of self” come into play throughout the book? When does Feldman reveal her most authentic self, and to whom?

11. How does Feldman’s trip to Heather’s deeply Christian hometown act as a sort of culture shock? Discuss her interactions with Leeann, Mark, and others who implore her to convert to Christianity. How does she cope with this proselytizing?

12. Discuss Feldman’s interactions with Colt/Jacob. Why do you think Feldman chose to include their tense relationship? 

13. Feldman’s roadtrip across America provides several moments of clarity during her search for selfhood. What moments struck you as most important? How does Feldman’s need for independence become increasingly pronounced throughout the book? Discuss her relationship with her identity as an American. 

14. In New Orleans, Feldman finally finds the type of romantic relationship that offers fulfillment. Explore her experiences with her sexuality at this point in the memoir. How does her relationship with Conor help her to grow more confident? How does the dissolution of their relationship affect her sense of self?

15. On page 174, Feldman discusses her choice to model for a painting. How does this act of defiance help her to reclaim her sexuality? Her selfhood? Relate this to Feldman’s assertion of feminism.  

16. Feldman’s relationship with Markus brings to light some uncomfortable truths about the relationship between Germans and Jews. Discuss their lighthearted banter about Nazism, and Feldman’s uneasy relationship with it. How do these types of statements act as a type of defense mechanism for Feldman? When does it cross the line? What truths about German culture—if any—were surprising for you as a reader?

17. On page 160, Feldman declares herself a “global Jew.” Unpack the meaning of this. How do her travels in Europe help to cement this identity?

18. Throughout Exodus, Feldman grapples with overwhelming anxiety. At what moments does her anxiety manifest most strongly? By the end of the book, how does she cope with her fears?

19. Feldman has faced incredible hurdles in creating a fulfilling, happy life outside of the community that rejected her. When is her strength most visible on the page? What is her greatest triumph? What moments of this memoir inspired you? 

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