Synopses & Reviews
A vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue, Gifts of War
is a remarkable novel that explores what made War World I so tragic and revolutionary.
During the Christmas Truce of 1914, Hal Montgomery makes a pact with a German soldier that will change his life—he promises to find his enemy’s English girlfriend, Sam, and let her know her fiancé is alive. But things take an unexpected turn when Hal falls in love with Sam himself. As their romance blossoms, she shares her most private confidence: Her newborn son is of German lineage, information that threatens her reputation and her job as a schoolteacher. Fearful that he will lose Sam, Hal holds tight to the secret that brought them together. But fashioning a family life proves precarious when it is founded on a lie.
About the Author
MACKENZIE FORD is the nom de plume of a well-known and respected historian who lives in London, England.
Reading Group Guide
1. How are Hal and Wilhelm similar/different? Is it reasonable for Sam to be attracted to both men? What does Wilhelm offer Sam that Hal does not and vice versa?
2. Early on in his friendship with Sam, Hal notes that “Sam, I realised, was trying to keep her distance even as I was trying to get closer.” Why doesn't Hal honor the signs he receives from Sam in the beginning of their relationship? Is his persistence a byproduct of blind love, or some other reason? Conversely, does Sam lead Hal on-can it be argued that Sam is using Hal?
3. Explain Sam's wanderlust. What does travel represent for Sam? Is something missing in her life that makes her yearn for travel?
4. How do Hal and Sam's contrary upbringings influence their outlook on love and fidelity?
5. What characteristics do Sam and Izzy share? Who is the better influence on Hal, Sam or Izzy? Why?
6. Hal admits, “I was, so far as I knew, in love with Sam and at that point would probably have concealed any inconvenient fact, told any untruth-any lie-to have ingratiated myself with her. To be honest, I didn't go into the rights and wrongs of it all too much, not then. The war might last a long while.” Do you empathize with Hal's position? Can you rationalize his overt and conscious deception of Sam or do you think that he is acting justly?
7. “Play while you can, play hard, try everything…Playing hard shows you are not defeated, not dead, not even down. It's your duty to play, because tomorrow it might end.” Izzy lives by a “life is too short” motto-how does her attitude influence Hal? Can Hal's pursuit of Sam be seen as a way of living life to the fullest?
8. How do Izzy's experiences in the war differ from Hal's? Whose experiences and contributions seem to have the greatest personal impact?
9. What role do art and culture play in the narrative?
10. How is Izzy's relationship with Alan, a married man, different from Hal's relationship with Sam? Is one relationship more moral or acceptable than the other?
11. What is to be made of Hal's mother's assertion that some people don't need to be loved-that they are much better at loving? Ultimately, do you think that this is true for Hal?
12. Explain the role of risk (in regards to family, romance, and the military) in the novel.
13. How do you view Hal at the end of the novel? Has your opinion of him changed? If so, how?
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The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Gifts of War, Mackenzie Ford's vivid tale of romance, adventure, and intrigue.