Synopses & Reviews
When We Were Romans is a haunting psychological novel and another masterful work from the author of the prize-winning English Passengers.Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man of his family. He watches over his mother and his willful little sister Jemima. He is the one who keeps order, especially when his mother decides they must leave their life in England behind because of threats from Lawrence's father. But their new life in Rome does not go as planned. Short of money and living off of his mother's old friends—all who seem to doubt her story—Lawrence soon realizes that things are not what they seem.
When We Were Romans
is a haunting psychological novel and another masterful work from the author of the prize–winning English Passengers
Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man of his family. He watches over his mother and his willful little sister Jemima. He is the one who keeps order, especially when his mother decides they must leave their life in England behind because of threats from Lawrence's father. But their new life in Rome does not go as planned. Short of money and living off of his mother's old friendsall who seem to doubt her storyLawrence soon realizes that things are not what they seem.
About the Author
Matthew Kneale was born in London, the son of two writers. He is author of numerous prize-winning novels, including the bestselling English Passengers, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He lives in Rome.
Reading Group Guide
1. How does Lawrence see the difference between men's roles and women's roles? How does he cope with feeling like the man of the family (with tremendous responsibility) as well as his mother's very young son (with little control over his circumstances)?
2. How did your perception of Hannah change throughout the novel? Did you trust her husband?
3. Is the relationship between Lawrence and Jemima typical? Did it remind you of the way you and your siblings dealt with each other?
4. What do Cloudio, Beppo, the Vanhootens, and others in Italy seem to think of Hannah? What was Lawrence able to see that the adults could not?
5. What was the effect of Lawrence's reports on astronomy? How does he feel about the pending cataclysms of the universe?
6. What did Lawrence teach you about the Roman Empire? In what ways is his recounting of history refreshing? Were you as knowledgeable about science and history when you were his age?
7. How does Lawrence understand the lunacy of Nero, Caligula, and others? Does he recognize their narcissism and their sadism?
8. Do Jemima and Lawrence think of their trip as dangerous or amusing? Do they accept their mother's depiction of the trip as a grand adventure?
9. What does Hermann mean to Lawrence? Did you have a similar attachment to a pet when you were young? What do Lawrence's depictions of the other characters as animals indicate about his imaginative powers?
10. Compare Lawrence's voice to that of another child-narrated novel you admire. What makes his voice unique? What powerful qualities does a child's voice possess?
11. Discuss the scene of Hannah's return to Scotland. What do Lawrence's actions indicate about how loyal and impressionable children can be?
12. What did Rome represent to Hannah? How did the novel's varying settings create meaningful backdrops for the episodes in Lawrence's life?
13. What hallmarks of Matthew Kneale's storytelling style appear in When We Were Romans? In what ways does this novel expand on themes in his previous works?
"Touching and delightful. . . . Unswervingly authentic."
—The Seattle Times
The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Matthew Kneale's When We Were Romans. We hope they will enrich your experience of this deeply moving novel.