Title: The Kommandant’s Girl
Author: Pam Jenoff
Page Count: 395 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Tone: Mesmerizing, Intrigue
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.
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?
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…
The Lost Wife
by Alyson Richman
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
The Diplomat’s Wife
by Pam Jenoff (sequel to The Kommandant’s Girl)