Our Reading Guide for Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman with much food for thought.

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1 The author is the child that the Mother is carrying during her walk. Discuss the idea of writing about a parent at a time before the writer could know them, and the skills and tools that would be useful.

2 Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman is written as a single sentence. Why? What effect has that on the plot? Discuss the tempo and flow that is inherent in the text as a consequence.

3 The novel is set firmly in Rome, and the author has walked the same route – many years after 1943. How important is the sense of place to the novel, and how does the Mother consider her surroundings?

4 Margherita is conflicted between her loyalty to the National Socialist Party, and her church. Discuss the experience of an ‘ordinary German’ during the war, and the growing shift to empathetic writing from contemporary German novelists.

5 Margherita is innocent and naïve. At what point does she begin to consider the very real implications of the war upon herself and her baby?

6 Margherita’s interest in the war is on a very personal level, she wants the Germans to win it so that her husband can return to her. Is she egoistic or is she expressing a universal human desire?

7 Is the author judging Margherita/his mother?

8 Margherita grew up under the Nazis. In how far does the book describe the mind of a person who grew up in a totalitarian state?

9 Do you have any sympathy for Margherita? Discuss.

10 Another German novel, that describes an ‘ordinary’ German woman during the Nazi era is Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader. If you have read Schlink’s novel, discuss the differences of the authors’ approaches towards their characters. If not, is there another example of an ordinary German’s experience of this time you have encountered?