Find
10 South Emerson, Mount Prospect, IL 60056 | 847/253-5675
Font:

Check It Out!

MPPL's staff blog about books, movies, music and the talent behind them.

Book Discussion Questions: The Kommandant’s Girl by Pam Jenoff

Cover of The Kommandant's GirlTitle: The Kommandant’s Girl
Author: Pam Jenoff
Page Count: 395 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction, Romance
Tone: Mesmerizing, Intrigue

Summary:
Nineteen-year-old Emma Bau has been married only three weeks when Nazi tanks thunder into her native Poland. Within days Emma’s husband, Jacob, is forced to disappear underground, leaving her imprisoned within the city’s decrepit, moldering Jewish ghetto. But then, in the dead of night, the resistance smuggles her out. Taken to Krakow to live with Jacob’s Catholic cousin, Krysia, Emma takes on a new identity as Anna Lipowski, a gentile.
Emma’s already precarious situation is complicated by her introduction to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official who hires her to work as his assistant. Urged by the resistance to use her position to access details of the Nazi occupation, Emma must compromise her safety—and her marriage vows—in order to help Jacob’s cause. As the atrocities of war intensify, so does Emma’s relationship with the Kommandant, building to a climax that will risk not only her double life, but also the lives of those she loves.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. A Publisher’s Weekly review called The Kommandant’s Girl “historical romance at its finest”.

Is this a historical romance? Would you categorize it differently? Mira Books, which published the novel, is a division of Harlequin. Did it ever seem like a Harlequin romance novel?

If it is a historical romance, then romance between whom? Emma and Jacob? Or Emma and the Kommandant?

2. Did you believe the romance between Emma and Jacob?

3. Emma and Jacob were married only a few weeks before they were separated. How do you think the story might have been different if they had been married for six months? One year? Five?

4. Was Jacob right to leave the way he did? Do you think he knew what Emma was doing?

5. Did you believe the romance between Emma and the Kommandant? Did the age difference bother you? As Emma wonders, if they had met in a different world, a different time, do you think they could have been happy together? Were they “star-crossed lovers”?

6. Did you find yourself more invested in Jacob or in the Kommandant?

7. Did you find Emma a sympathetic character? heroic? Was she a believable 19-year-old?

8. What was the most difficult challenge faced by Emma? How did her choices affect others?

9. Did her attraction to the Kommandant make her situation easier? What if she had not had feelings for him?

10. Emma struggled not just with betraying her husband, but betraying her faith. Do you think her struggle was portrayed realistically? Would you say she was unfaithful? Given the circumstances, were her actions “right”? In other words, do the ends justify the means?

11. Another review (Booklist) claimed that the author “succeeded in humanizing the unfathomable as well as the heroic”. Would you agree that the Kommandant, for example, was humanized? Did you find him sympathetic? Why or why not? If so, were you uncomfortable (as Emma was) with your sympathy?

12. Was the Kommandant really going to shoot Emma?

13. What was your opinion of Malgorzata and her role in the story?

14. How does Lukasz change the story? What if it had just been Emma and Krysia involved in the deception? What does Krysia add?

15. How was the underground portrayed? Did you feel you understood the danger? What did you think of Alek? Was his death a surprise?

16. How did you feel about Marta? Did your feelings change at any point?

17. Was Jenoff’s choice to have Emma tell the story from her point of view a good one? Was it well-utilized?

18. This is a first novel for Jenoff. Is that apparent? How so? Do you like the author’s style?

19. What was the greatest strength of the book? Its most serious flaw?

20. The book was originally titled A Fine Crack of Light. What do you think that meant? Which title do you prefer?

21. Even among those who like the book, the ending is often singled out as somewhat flawed. Did it end the way you expected? Was it satisfying?

22. How might you respond to other concerns/ criticisms:

-too many coincidences, especially in closing chapters
-language (e.g., Emma’s habitual answering of “okay”)
-not as deep or as evocative as could have been (tells, doesn’t show)
-too-familiar story; market full of WWII fiction titles
-too serious a topic to treat lightly

23. Many authors have an idea and then research the time and place. Jenoff walked the streets, was immersed in stories, and then felt compelled to write. Can you tell? Did that serve the story well?

24. Did the book’s setting enhance the story? What about the individual settings, such as the ghetto?

25. What themes would you say are throughout the story? The publisher suggests “timeless themes of hope, struggle, defiance”; would you agree with these? Are there others you would add? How well were the themes addressed and/or communicated?

26. What was the purpose of the book? Was it to learn about history? Did you?

27. What’s next for Emma? Did she and Jacob have a happy life? Does she change her mind about telling Jacob about the baby? Should she?

28. What life do you predict Lukasz will lead?

Other Resources

Mount Prospect Public Library Discussion Resources
Harlequin Discussion Questions
Lit Lovers Reading Guide
Personal Q&A with Pam Jenoff
Interview with Jenoff about the book
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website
Kommandant’s Girl backstory

If you liked The Kommandant’s Girl, try…

Cover of The Lost WifeThe Lost Wife
by Alyson Richman

Cover of AnyaAnya
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

Cover of The Diplomat's WifeThe Diplomat’s Wife
by Pam Jenoff (sequel to The Kommandant’s Girl)

Staff Pick: Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes

Picture of BarbaraSound & Color is Alabama Shakes follow-up album to their Grammy-nominated debut, Boys and Girls. The music is rooted in bluesy rock with a wide range of influences including elements of punk and heavy metal. What really drives the album is the soulful, raw vocals of Brittany Howard. Adding to the vocals are funky rhythms interspersed with passionate guitar riffs and perfectly timed melodic keyboarding. This album is pure toe-tapping fun.

Fiction: Heroes and Villains for Star Wars Day

May the 4th be with you! It’s Star Wars Day, and whether your allegiances are with the Rebel Alliance or the Imperial Forces, thrilling adventures await. The newest class of author recruits includes the best, brightest, and bestselling of science fiction and fantasy writers, so strap yourself in and return to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

For those who fight the good fight:

Razor's Edge book coverRazor’s Edge
by Martha Wells

Honor Among Thieves book coverHonor Among Thieves
by James S. A. Corey

Heir to the Jedi book coverHeir to the Jedi
by Kevin Hearne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those drawn to the Dark Side:

Maul Lockdown coverMaul Lockdown
by Joe Schreiber

Tarkin book coverTarkin
by James Luceno

Lords of the Sith book coverLords of the Sith
by Paul S. Kemp

 

Do You Prefer Happy or Sad Stories?

Cover of Breathing Lessons

 Would you rather read a…

happy story?

“I hate (yes, HATE) sad stories because they always make me cry and I do not cry pretty (racking sobs, runny nose, red eyes and splotches all over)!!” -Denise from Fiction/AV/Teen

“I prefer stories with happy endings because they make me feel good and have a more positive outlook on life.”  -Donna from Fiction/AV/Teen

“I prefer happy stories because there’s already so much tragedy and sadness in real life in our faces everyday.”
-Joe from Research

 

 

 

 

 

sad story?

I prefer sad stories because there are many ways to be surprised in a sad story and because evoking those feelings remind me that everyone goes through them.” -Cynthia from Research

“Although I love ALL types of stories, if I had to pick I would probably say I prefer sad stories, because I feel like they more accurately depict life, which is never without its challenges. I think the happy moments also mean more and have a greater impact when they’re found in the midst of a sad story.”
-Janine from Circulation

“Writing that creates beauty out of heartbreak has an artistry I can’t resist.”
– Cathleen from Fiction/AV/Teen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

or are you torn?

“I confess to liking both sad and happy if the story is well written. A good sad story for me is one that has a moral or ethical conundrum that makes be think about it at the end. For happy stories, I like a good “coming of age” story where the protagonist learns a lesson about life and has an uplifting and/or happy ending.” -Larry from Fiction/AV/Teen

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week by the 2nd floor elevator we are displaying happier and sadder stories! Check out the titles below and more on the display. If you would like books picked out personally for your taste, ask a Readers’ Advisor at the Fiction/AV/Teen Services desk to match you with some books, or email us at readers@mppl.org.

The Happily Ever Afters

Cover of AnythingAnything Considered
by Peter Mayle

Cover of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People The Marriage Bureau for Rich People
by Farahad Zama

Cover of The Summer We Read GatsbyThe Summer We Read Gatsby
by Danielle Ganek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of ScaramoucheScaramouche
by Rafael Sabatini

Cover of The Garden of Happy EndingsThe Garden of Happy Endings
by Barbara O’Neal

Cover of Breathing LessonsBreathing Lessons
by Anne Tyler

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Not So Happily Ever Afters

Cover of The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison

Cover of SunflowersSunflowers
by Sheramy Bundrick

Cover of She's Come UndoneShe’s Come Undone
by Wally Lamb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover of If He Had Been With MeIf He Had Been With Me
by Laura Nowlin

Cover of Johnny Got His GunJohnny Got His Gun
by Dalton Trumbo

Cover of The Heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart is a Lonely Hunter
by Carson McCullers

Fiction: All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Cover of All the RageRed lips. Red nails. It’s not makeup. It’s armor. When you’re a girl from the wrong side of town, when you’re a girl being bullied by your former friends, when you’re a girl raped by the sheriff’s son… you need armor. Romy is merely trying to survive daily life, but the tension in her life triples when an ex-friend from school goes missing. Courtney Summer’s fifth novel, All the Rage, is the raw exploration of the strength of a high school girl, the failings of a small town, the responsibilities people have to one another, and the frail strings holding one person together.

More...