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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

A Memory of War


A Memory of War Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. For all the characters histories presented,we are only in Alexs

consciousness throughout the novel. From what point in time is

Alex remembering all these events? What is the significance of

that? What is the purpose of Busch having one character create the

experience of memory for the other characters?

2. Busch uses repetition and variation of a certain set of words—

i.e., chatter, pant, verge, panic, tingle.What is the effect of this repetition?

Why does it become important?

3. Alexs fathers name is Januscz; Nellas former boyfriend works

(Alex thinks) for Janus, the investment firm; many characters have

names that feature double consonants: Nell;Teddy; Otto;William,

etc.What do you make of all the mirroring? Can you find other

mirror effects in the plot itself ?

4. Time travel is mentioned several times.Why? How does the

impossibility of real time travel comment on the process of memory?

What about the mention of Alice in Wonderland ?

5. Continuing the mirror idea:How do each of the major characters

embody differing aspects of Alexs self ? Can we trust these portraits of characters he paints as anything other than those aspects? Can you find points in the novel where Alex states plainly

that this is what they are?

6. Three main occupations are pursued by those in Alexs present:

the arts, the law, and psychoanalysis. If “All your clues are from

Freud and my wife . . . ,” what are we to make of Buschs use of

these three? What of the women—Liz, Detective Rhys, Nella—

who have the starring role (and Alexs desire) in each?

7. In their final meeting before Januscz becomes aware of Sylvias

infidelity, Alex, who is conjecturing this entire scene, has Otto and

Sylvia discuss the conjecture of memory just so the loved one

might be remembered. This is one of the scenes in which Busch

brings two major forces of the novel—talk and love—together,

making them nearly one and the same. In what other scenes does

this equating occur? How do the nature of love and talk change

for Alex over the course of the novel?

8. During the meeting with Grensen, Busch alternates between

repeated uses of the color white and invocations of the pristine

calm of Nellas fathers house with Ottos endurance in the dark

horror and filth of the death camp. As these are taking place in

Alexs mind simultaneously, what is the implication of this back

and forth? How does Alexs imagining of Sylvias imagining Ottos

experience echo what Alex has told us of his time as a very young

child in Barrow? At what point does the “white” of Nellas childhood

become sinister? What is the meaning of “storming in


9. The novel ends as it begins, with a memory of his father, but a

much different memory. Discuss how that memory has altered.

How did the meeting with Nellas father influence the change?

What does Alex gain in return for his re-remembering?

10. Is it important, ultimately, whether or not William Kessler is

actually Alexs brother? Why did Kesslers arrival precipitate Alexs

crisis and generate this elaborate effort of personal revision?

11. The William Carlos Williams poem that Alex remembers

stealing as a child is evocative for several reasons. Note the isolated

word in each stanza; note also Alex explaining the meaning as

being agricultural. How does this help render the memory as organic

and appropriate to the narrative flow of his memory in general?

12. Also in regard to the poem:Williams speaks of the precise

choice of detail that will turn an idea of an image into a concrete

experience for the reader.Why is this poem essential to understanding

how Alex is telling us his ideas about his life, his past?

What is Busch saying about exactly how we make our memories

real for ourselves?

13. The element of choice in memory notwithstanding, the novel

faces the hard fact of a horrific set of historical events. Given what

Alex tells us and how Busch gets it told, what do you think is the

measure by which we can trust memory? What is the difference

between memory and history?

Product Details

Busch, Frederick
Ballantine Books
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
March 16, 2004
Grade Level:
8.20x5.56x.93 in. .67 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

A Memory of War Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$3.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345460516 Reviews:
"Review" by , "[A] powerful new novel....[M]asterful. The author of The Night Inspector and 18 other richly insightful novels again explores the human condition with precision and compassion."
"Review" by , "[P]owerfully developed....Busch at his best: nobody does it better."
"Review" by , "Exquisite prose, at once delicate and muscular. This deeply felt novel adroitly juxtaposes the intellectual, the emotional, and the sensual. Probing questions of who we are merge seamlessly with the tumult of emotional upheaval and the sensation of flesh caressing flesh."
"Review" by , "Irresistible....A novel of startling psychological intensity that explores the rewriting of history, or the imagining of it....It's to Busch's credit that he's able to turn his kaleidoscope with such graceful, tantalizing precision; as Alex's search for morsels of truth turns obsessive, Busch's snapshots become addictive."
"Review" by , "Powerful....Compelling....Hypnotic....A profound exploration of a man at war with himself."
"Review" by , "Beautiful, harrowing....In Busch's skilled hands, past and present merge to become a sublimely haunting yet gorgeously uplifting account of one man's need to bridge the great gulf dividing heart and mind, body and soul."
"Review" by , "[A] versatile writer of consummate skill....Busch's ravishing, near-thriller novel...places the most private of emotions within the context of a cruel and chaotic world, and reveals the oceanic depths of our capacity and penchant for both pain and pleasure."
"Review" by , "[T]he pleasures of the written word are on ample display in Frederick Busch's new novel....The reward comes [from] prose that shimmers and a sensibility that respects the difficulty of devising a happy, sustainable life — in or out of wartime."
"Review" by , "Frederick Busch is, surely, America's most courageous and most focused of writers. Intelligent, compassionate, and unflinchingly adult, his new novel, A Memory of War, is an outstanding audit of the emotional legacies that haunt and disfigure contemporary American life. Rarely has a writer put such muscular, rigorous prose to such tender use."
"Review" by , "Frederick Busch moves deftly past the smoke and mirrors of wartime memory and troubled peacetime reconstructions to reveal a heartbreaking spiral of love and betrayal in two generations, one European, the other American. The writing here is beautiful, sometimes wickedly funny. Vivid as the characters of this novel are, it is history itself that is the captivating protagonist."
"Review" by , "I am, once again, delighted and amazed and, frankly, in awe of what Frederick Busch can do with the novel as an art form. A Memory of War is a brilliant and complex meditation....It's too easy to say 'memory' or 'imagination' or 'guilt' or 'love.' It's about all those things, but it's about much more. Perhaps the unnameable essence of existence. And, not incidentally, the novel is also an intensely compelling story. A Memory of War is a transcendently great book."
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