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Gifts of War Reader’s Guide

By Mackenzie Ford

Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford


The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Gifts of War, Mackenzie Ford’s vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue.


During the Christmas Truce of 1914, Hal Montgomery, a British soldier, is given a photo by a German soldier, Wilhelm Wetzlar, and they make a pact. Hal promises to find his enemy’s English girlfriend, Sam, and let her know her fiancé is alive and thinking of her. Several weeks later, Hal-now injured-is discharged from the army and goes to Stratford on Avon to fulfill his promise. But things take an unexpected turn when he meets the woman in the photo and falls in love with her himself. As their romance blossoms, Sam shares with Hal her most private confidence: Her newborn son is of German lineage, information that threatens her reputation and her job as a schoolteacher. Fearful that he will lose Sam, Hal holds tight to the secret-and the photograph-that brought them together.

The scene shifts to London, where Hal becomes involved with military intelligence and is introduced to Sam’s sisters and a different kind of secrecy. Against the broader landscape of England in wartime, Gifts of War captures the era and the fates of men and women caught in the sweep of history. A vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue, the novel is a remarkable narrative that explores what made War World I so tragic, so revolutionary, and so exciting.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. How are Hal and Wilhelm similar/different? Is it reasonable for Sam to be attracted to both men? What does Wilhelm offer Sam that Hal does not and vice versa?

2. Early on in his friendship with Sam, Hal notes that “Sam, I realised, was trying to keep her distance even as I was trying to get closer.” Why doesn’t Hal honor the signs he receives from Sam in the beginning of their relationship? Is his persistence a byproduct of blind love, or some other reason? Conversely, does Sam lead Hal on-can it be argued that Sam is using Hal?

3. Explain Sam’s wanderlust. What does travel represent for Sam? Is something missing in her life that makes her yearn for travel?

4. How do Hal and Sam’s contrary upbringings influence their outlook on love and fidelity?

5. What characteristics do Sam and Izzy share? Who is the better influence on Hal, Sam or Izzy? Why?

6. Hal admits, “I was, so far as I knew, in love with Sam and at that point would probably have concealed any inconvenient fact, told any untruth-any lie-to have ingratiated myself with her. To be honest, I didn’t go into the rights and wrongs of it all too much, not then. The war might last a long while.” Do you empathize with Hal’s position? Can you rationalize his overt and conscious deception of Sam or do you think that he is acting justly?

7. “Play while you can, play hard, try everything…Playing hard shows you are not defeated, not dead, not even down. It’s your duty to play, because tomorrow it might end.” Izzy lives by a “life is too short” motto-how does her attitude influence Hal? Can Hal’s pursuit of Sam be seen as a way of living life to the fullest?

8. How do Izzy’s experiences in the war differ from Hal’s? Whose experiences and contributions seem to have the greatest personal impact?

9. What role do art and culture play in the narrative?

10. How is Izzy’s relationship with Alan, a married man, different from Hal’s relationship with Sam? Is one relationship more moral or acceptable than the other?

11. What is to be made of Hal’s mother’s assertion that some people don’t need to be loved-that they are much better at loving? Ultimately, do you think that this is true for Hal?

12. Explain the role of risk (in regards to family, romance, and the military) in the novel.

13. How do you view Hal at the end of the novel? Has your opinion of him changed? If so, how?

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About this Author

Mackenzie Ford is the nom de plume of Peter Watson, a well-known and respected historian whose books are published in twenty languages. He was educated at the Universities of Durham, London, and Rome, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous publications in the United Kingdom. Since 1998 he has been a Research Associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.

Suggested Reading

Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong; Charlotte Gray; The Girl at the Lion D’Or; Paul Griner, The German Woman; Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms; Pam Jenoff, The Kommandant’s Girl; Janice Y. K. Lee, The Piano Teacher; Thomas Mullen, The Last Town on Earth; Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front; Tatiana de Rosnay, Sarah’s Key
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