Innocents (Segal) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
1. Segal’s debut novel is a re-telling of the classic novel The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie adaptation of The Age of Innocence, discuss the specific ways in which The Innocents parallels Wharton’s novel, and then consider the important ways in which it departs from her novel. Does knowledge of this parallel add to your understanding of Segal’s novel, or does it complicate it?

2. Apart from Adam’s initial physical attraction to Ellie, what in the beginning of the novel foreshadowed that Adam and Rachel were not, perhaps, as ideally suited to one another as he’d thought for the past 12 years?

3. How did the back-story about Jackie’s death help you to sympathize with Ellie? What aspects of her personality seem most likely a result of her mother’s early death and her father’s subsequent emotional distance?

4. Discuss Ziva’s relationship with Ellie and consider how the two women are similar in terms of being survivors. How much do you think this accounted for their mutual affection for one another? Could any of the others—Jaffa, Rachel, Adam—have truly understood Ziva? Why or why not?

5. Compare Ellie’s character with that of Rachel’s, and discuss Adam’s inability to commit wholly to just one of them for most of the novel. Between the two women, whom did you prefer? With whom did you sympathize the most? Do you think Adam made the right choice, in the end?

6. Also, compare and contrast the novel’s “Evan Goodman” financial scandal with recent events in the financial sector of our own culture—such as the Bernie Madoff scandal. Discuss how the ordeal operates as a catalyst and as a complication of the plot within the novel. Do you think it can also work as a symbol with any of Segal’s themes in the book? Why or why not?

7. How well does Segal portray the social, psychological, religious, and emotional lives of the Jewish community in North London? Do you feel that she conveys a reasonable and realistic portrait of this large and diverse group of people? What were her greatest strengths in her depiction, as well as her weaknesses?

8. Similarly, how did characters like Ziva Schneider help you to understand the Israeli immigrant experience? In particular, what did the novel help to show about the Jewish survivors of World War II, and their difficulties with nationality and assimilation into post-World War II European society?

9. Is Rachel’s character a passive one? Would you call her passive aggressive? Why or why not? By the end of the novel, in what significant ways has her character changed?

10. Discuss how Segal incorporates the subject of death into her novel – would you call her handling of the subject matter sensitive? Objective? Realistic? Consider the many moments in the novel where death is encountered or referenced and discuss Segal’s success when it comes to writing about the end of life and its impact on those who remain.

11. Similarly, discuss Segal’s choice of setting for this adaptation of Wharton’s novel. In what important ways does the Jewish community of North London in the early 2000’s parallel late 19th century New York? Discuss the key characteristics that these communities share, and then discuss their important differences.

12. Discuss the significance of Segal’s title to the characters in her book. Not only does the title recall Wharton’s novel, but it reflects a characteristic of the group of people she’s writing about, as well as specific characters. Discuss the ways in which The Innocents is both a sincere title and an ironic one.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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