Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The narrator notes at the start of the novel that “the villa seemed to be of two minds, one noble, chilly, and serious, the other homely and cozy.” How do you see this contradiction reflected throughout the book? What do you think this suggests about the people who occupy the villa?
2. What is the effect of having an American narrator tell the story of this Italian family? Why do you think stories of Americans in Europe have been such an enduring theme in literature?
3. Beatrice says that America is “a country with no past . . . so all Americans think about is the future.” Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
4. The novel’s title comes from something Beatrice says to Jan after she tells her a story: “I give it to you.” What do you think of this description of storytelling? What do you think it implies about the relationship between the speaker and the listener?
5. What do you think it is about Beatrice’s stories of her life that appeals to Jan? Why is Jan so fascinated by Beatrice’s family?
6. Patrick and Beatrice have very different experiences of visiting each other’s hometowns. Why do you think sharing your home with a new person can feel so daunting?
7. After Beatrice tells Jan the story of her son David’s life, he remarks that “there are several versions of that.” What do you think he means by this? How might Patrick or David’s version of the story differ from Beatrice’s?
8. Beatrice’s family is aristocratic, but they lost most of their wealth after World War II. What did you find interesting or unexpected about the way class is depicted in the novel?
9. Like all families, the Salviati family has members who are sources of shame or secrecy, such as the fascist Marco and the incarcerated Sandro. Do you have any black sheep in your family? How does learning about them complicate your understanding of where you came from?
10. The character of Mimma occupies the perimeter of the story but holds an unexpected amount of power. Were you surprised by Mimma’s fate near the end of the novel?
11. What did you think of Beatrice and David’s reaction to Jan’s manuscript? How, if at all, did it make you think differently about Jan’s place in the story and at the villa?