Kate Wenner

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Setting Fires

1. Why is Rabbi Lowenstein’s advice so important when he tells Annie to risk leaving her husband and children to go to be with her dying father?

2. What do you think Abe Fishman meantß by his description of himself as a “Manufactured Man?”

3. What was the impact of Abe Fishman’s shame on his relationships with his family?

4. How do you think the relationships among Abe’s four children were affected by their father’s secret?

5. What does Setting Fires have to say about the impact of secrets on families?

6. Why is Abe Fishman so convulsed with guilt about an event in his childhood in which he was really more bystander than perpetrator?

7. What is the meaning of the Hebrew word “teshuvah” that is referred to in the novel? Does Abe truly go through a process of teshuvah?

8. Why does Annie feel such pain at the loss of her father, even after she’s spent so much time with him in the final months of his life?

9. Annie is on a hunt to come to terms with the underlying threads that connect the two fires that have had such a dramatic impact on her life. What do you think she discovers? And how does it change her?

10. In one of the arsons in the novel, the Jewish family is the perpetrator; in the other arson, the Jewish family is the victim. How is the impact of these fires similar, despite their profound differences?

11. What are the possible meanings of the title, Setting Fires?

12. What does Setting Fires say about the opportunities that exist when someone is dying?

13. Has a secret affected your own family?

14. Are there questions you would like to ask your own parents which you haven’t yet found a way to ask them? If you’ve already lost a parent, what would you have wanted to ask him or her?

15. Has keeping a secret from your own children affected your relationship with them in some way?

16. Have you ever overcome a feeling of shame by confronting a painful truth? What was
the result?

17. Is there someone with whom you would like to talk about your family history? How can you begin that conversation? What would be your first steps?

Book Groups

Dancing With Einstein

1. The title of the novel, Dancing With Einstein, suggests that Einstein might be both a character and a metaphor in the novel. What could be a metaphoric meaning?

2. What does Marea get out of seeing four different therapists at once? How do the different therapies reflect different parts of her character? Or different ways of understanding her world?

3. As a Holocaust survivor, how does Marea’s father’s history affect his behavior with his family? What legacy does he unwittingly pass on to his daughter? How much of that inheritance is inevitable? Could he have protected his daughter from his despair?

4. Is Marea’s estrangement from her mother understandable, or is Marea too tough on her mother?

5. What is the lasting impact of Marea’s childhood fears of nuclear war? Why is her fear so lasting? Are children particularly susceptible to these kinds of fears? Why? Are they as susceptible to these fears now as they were when Marea was a child?

6. Marea has traveled the globe for seven years. What do you think drives her to do all that traveling?

7. What does Marea learn from her relationship with the gay baker?

8. Why is Marea drawn to ride the subway? What does she find there? What does it teach her?

9. What allows Marea to confront her fears?

10. Journals are an important part of this novel. How does the discovery of one journal lead to the beginning of another one?

11. How has Marea changed by the end of the novel? Do you think she will now be able to make lasting relationships, or will her fears and doubts forever haunt her?

12. In the end, is Dancing With Einstein a novel of hope or a novel of despair – or possibly both?

Selected Works

Dancing With Einstein
"The fallout of America's atomic nightmare is a touching, humanistic story."
-- Kirkus Reviews

Setting Fires

“Intense and touching."
—Publishers Weekly

"A winner...rich and riveting."
—The Toronto Sun

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