The Girl I Left Behind is a perfect choice for your next book club! Contact me for details about connecting via Skype or Hangouts.
1) In the first opening pages, Claudia and Ella are attending a League of German Girl’s meeting at Frau Dankwart’s house. In what ways can we see that they are different than the other girls in their group?
2) Both Claudia and Ella are not National Socialists. In fact, both of them despise the Nazi Party and their political ideology, however, Claudia is much more involved with the resistance than Ella when we first meet her. Why do you think this is? What drives Claudia, and more importantly, what holds Ella back?
3) Aunt Bridget appears to be very concerned with the way Ella acts and looks. In what ways does her meddling, intrusions and rules shape the larger narrative of being a “good German?”
4) Aunt Bridget tries to give Ella her special egg cups in the beginning of the story, a beloved family heirloom, but Ella wants nothing to do with them and thinks they’re ugly. Later, when Ella receives them as a birthday gift, her reaction is much different. Not only is she surprised to notice the detailed design, which she thinks is beautiful, she is deeply touched by her aunt’s sentiment. When Ella is arrested, we see the egg cups shatter into many, unsalvageable pieces. What larger significance do the egg cups play in this story?
5) Ella sells an unwanted painting of a blue rose to a woman in the antique shop, an item her aunt had been trying to unload for sometime. The painting is undesirable not only because the rose is monochromatic and dull, but also because blue roses are a myth, and (according to Ella) nobody wants a painting of something that doesn’t exist. But Ella casually makes up a story about Oriental roses, making them desirable, and the shopper suddenly sees something in the painting she hadn’t before. What is the importance of this sale, and why does she think of this rose on the very last page of the book?
6) Aunt Bridget is the epitome of German sophistication, or so she tries to portray. In what ways can we see Aunt Bridget trying just a little too hard, and failing, to meet the expectations of a “good German” during breakfast and during her tea celebration?
7) We see a dramatic shift in Aunt Bridget’s character the night she helps deliver Julia’s baby. In what physical ways during the birth can we see the shift?
8) When Ella arrives at Sophie’s place with money and a train schedule, she appears a little cold and resentful. This Ella is starkly different than the girl she left behind in Nuremberg, the impressionable and hopeful Ella who pasted magazine clippings to her wall. Why is she resentful toward Sophie and how much has Ella changed, both physically and mentally?
9) In the beginning of the story we see Ella putting pins into Claudia’s hair. Toward the end, we see Ella taking pins out of Toyoka’s hair. In what ways are these moments connected and actually major turning points in Ella’s life?
10) Ella allows herself to get close to Erik by believing he is a different person without the uniform. Do you blame her for cozying up to him on the ski trip? In what ways does she invent stories up about Erik in her head, very similar to the way she invented stories up about herself?