With World War II finally ending, Jake Geismar, former Berlin correspondent for CBS, has wangled one of the coveted press slots for the Potsdam Conference. His assignment: a series of articles on the Allied occupation. His personal agenda: to find Lena, the German mistress he left behind at the outbreak of the war. When Jake stumbles on a murder -- an American soldier washes up on the conference grounds -- he thinks he has found the key that will unlock his Berlin story. What Jake finds instead is a larger story of corruption and intrigue reaching deep into the heart of the occupation. Berlin in July 1945 is like nowhere else -- a tragedy, and a feverish party after the end of the world. As Jake searches the ruins for Lena, he discovers that years of war have led to unimaginable displacement and degradation. As he hunts for the soldier's killer, he learns that Berlin has become a city of secrets, a lunar landscape that seethes with social and political tension. When the two searches become entangled, Jake comes to understand that the American Military Government is already fighting a new enemy in the east, busily identifying the "good Germans" who can help win the next war. And hanging over everything is the larger crime, a crime so huge that it seems -- the worst irony -- beyond punishment. At once a murder mystery, a moving love story, and a riveting portrait of a unique time and place, The Good German is a historical thriller of the first rank.
This reading group guide includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In post-WWII Hollywood, Ben Collier has returned from the front lines to find that his brother Danny has died from a fall off a hotel balcony. But the information surrounding Danny’s accident is blurred, and Ben makes his way to Los Angeles wondering why Danny, a war hero and burgeoning filmmaker, would leave behind a life of promise and respect. Or was it not his choice after all?
In Joseph Kanon’s most intricate novel to date, Stardust follows Ben on an informative and mysterious trek through the hush-hush world of 1940s Hollywood. As he attempts to piece together the specifics of his brother’s death, Ben is hurled into a stream of secret deals, political maneuvering, and the beginning murmurs of the Hollywood Communist witch hunts.
With a lush depiction of the era, Kanon weaves a tale of intrigue, suspense, and romance that looks behind the film lens and into the hearts of émigrés and American moviemakers of the time. Lights, camera, action…
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Did you expect the final outcome? Did the identity of Danny’s murderer come as a shock?
2. Discuss Liesl and her numerous lovers over the course of the narrative. (Consider Danny, Ben, and Dick Marshall). Did she ever love Ben, or was he just an extension of Danny? As Ben asks, “Was any of it real?”
3. Discuss the courtroom debate between Minot and Lasner. Who do you think won in the end? Did Lasner successfully thwart Minot’s attack on Hollywood, or did he merely delay the inevitable?
4. Ben is supplied information (and misinformation) by a variety of questionable sources. Did you trust his various informants? (Consider Kelly, Riordan, Polly, Minot, and Bunny Jenkins).
5. Bunny is one of the more complex characters within the narrative, a child star turned Hollywood Studio second-in-command and “fixer.” Discuss his evolution and multiplicity. How did you interpret his relationship with Jack (the mangled veteran)? Or his compliance with Minot’s proposed witch hunt? And, of course, consider his role in saving Ben’s life. Did you ever have a firm grasp on his character, or intentions?
6. Did you trust Ben’s deductive skills? He was led down the wrong path on numerous occasions. Were Liesl and Riordan right in persuading him to let Danny go? Is he any better off once Danny’s past allegiances are uncovered?
7. Murder plays a large role throughout the story, as two killings spur Danny to uncover the secrets behind the studio and the Red Scare. Were you certain as to why Danny had to die? What about Genia, the Holocaust survivor?
8. Where do you think Ben goes after watching War Bride?
9. Who was your favorite starlet in Stardust’s versions of Hollywood? Rosemary? Paulette Goddard? The new and improved Liesl Eastman? Are any of them safe from Minot and Polly Marks?
10. Who makes a better case for Ben’s future in Hollywood? Bunny, or Lasner?
EXPAND YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Read another thriller/mystery novel, such as Le Carre’s A Most Wanted Man or a title from Ferrigno’s Assassin series, and discuss the way the writers build up and establish intrigue, and the methods by which they reveal the truth.
2. There is an immense amount of misinformation, secret connections, and crossed lines throughout the narrative. See if you can draw a map that clearly indicates how everyone is associated, who supplied whom with information, and how Dieter’s machinations work underneath it all.
3. The novel is a representation of a very specific era of Hollywood. Watch some of the movies from that era to get a better idea of what Tinsel Town was producing during the 1940s. Try You’ll Never Get Rich (Rita Hayworth, 1941) or Casablanca (Ingrid Bergman, 1942). There is also a rich selection of German cinema from this informative period, mentioned frequently in the beginning of the text. See any of Fritz Lang or Brecht’s seminal post-occupation films.
4. Continuing with the previous question, do you find any Communist or Socialist undertones in these films? Could you make a case for or against an imaginary Red inquisition?
5. Who would you cast in the Stardust movie?
A CONVERSATION WITH JOSEPH KANON
1. You obviously did a great amount of period-specific research for the book. What was the information-gathering process like for such an undertaking?
2. Ben seems to possess an inexplicable detective’s intuition. What makes him such a good sleuth? Is it love for his brother, or something else?
3. What are some of your favorite movies from Stardust-era Hollywood? Who are your favorite actors and actresses?
4. Considering the subject matter of Stardust, it must have been surreal to see The Good German translated to film. How do you feel about literature adapted for Hollywood? How do you feel about Hollywood in general?
5. There has always been a large interest in following a child star’s coming of age. How do you view Bunny’s rise to the upper echelons of studio business? Or is it a fall from the limelight?
6. This novel has a very cinematic feel. Did you think about a big screen version while writing it? Who would you cast in the Stardust movie?
7. With all the duplicity and background connections in the book, did you have a hard time keeping track during the writing process? Was there a particular way in which you organized or mapped the Stardust political/historical landscape?
8. What was the most challenging aspect of writing such an intricate narrative?
9. Are you working on another novel? Have you ever considered writing a screenplay?
10. In Stardust, you combine history and storytelling to weave your tale. What plotlines or characters from the book are historically based, and which are your own invention?
Joseph Kanon is the Edgar Award–winning author of Defectors, Leaving Berlin, Istanbul Passage, Los Alamos, The Prodigal Spy, Alibi, Stardust, and The Good German, which was made into a major motion picture starring George Clooney and Cate Blanchett. He lives in New York City.
Academy Award–nominee Stanley Tucci is an Emmy and Golden Globe Award–winning actor who has also been nominated for a Tony and a Grammy, among countless other critical and professional accolades. He has appeared in more than fifty films, including The Lovely Bones, Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, The Terminal, Road to Perdition, The Hunger Games films, and more than a dozen plays both on and off Broadway.