Book Club Questions for Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner

Book club discussion questions for Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner delve into the heart-wrenching stories of Ana, Oskar, Roger, and Renata, whose pasts have been stolen or concealed, leaving them struggling to find their true homes and identities.

Based on the true stories of children stolen during wartime, this beautifully evocative and tender novel raises questions of belonging, responsibility, and unforeseen consequences as it confronts the complex journey of finding one’s true home.

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Once We Were Home is beautifully evocative and filled with both luminosity and anguish. This thought-provoking novel raises important questions about the true meaning of finding home and the unforeseen consequences of good intentions.

If you’re interested in discussing Once We Were Home with your book club, consider exploring the themes of complicity, responsibility, and identity, as well as the characters’ motivations and psychologies. This detailed reading guide includes more than twenty book club discussion questions to help guide your conversation.

So, let’s dive into some book club questions for Once We Were Home! 💡

The Synopsis

When your past is stolen, where do you belong?

Ana will never forget her mother’s face when she and her baby brother, Oskar, were sent out of their Polish ghetto and into the arms of a Christian friend. For Oskar, though, their new family is the only one he remembers. When a woman from a Jewish reclamation organization seizes them, believing she has their best interest at heart, Ana sees an opportunity to reconnect with her roots, while Oskar sees only the loss of the home he loves.

Roger grows up in a monastery in France, inventing stories and trading riddles with his best friend in a life of quiet concealment. When a relative seeks to retrieve him, the Church steals him across the Pyrenees before relinquishing him to family in Jerusalem.

Renata, a post-graduate student in archaeology, has spent her life unearthing secrets from the past–except for her own. After her mother’s death, Renata’s grief is entwined with all the questions her mother left unanswered, including why they fled Germany so quickly when Renata was a little girl.

Two decades later, they are each building lives for themselves, trying to move on from the trauma and loss that haunts them. But as their stories converge in Israel, in unexpected ways, they must each ask where and to whom they truly belong.

Beautifully evocative and tender, filled with both luminosity and anguish, Once We Were Home reveals a little-known history. Based on the true stories of children stolen during wartime, this heart-wrenching novel raises questions of complicity and responsibility, belonging and identity, good intentions and unforeseen consequences, as it confronts what it really means to find home.

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Book Club Questions for Once We Were Home

I hope you and your book club will enjoy my discussion reading guide for Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner. ✨

  • The title “Once We Were Home” implies a loss of belonging and a search for identity. How does the idea of “home” shape the experiences and choices of the four central characters? In what ways do they struggle to find a sense of belonging and connection in the aftermath of their traumatic pasts?
  • The children in the book faced an immense amount of trauma and upheaval throughout their lives, which ultimately impacted their sense of identity and belonging. Do you believe that it’s possible for someone to fully overcome such a traumatic experience and regain a sense of self and belonging? Why or why not?
  • In the book, we see the long-term effects of being uprooted from one’s family and forced to live in a new environment. How do you think society can better support individuals who have experienced displacement, particularly children? What resources or programs could be put in place to help them feel more secure and supported in their new homes?
  • The short, italicized sections of the novel that are told from the perspective of the nesting doll reveal important details about Renata’s backstory. How do these sections contribute to the overall themes and messages of the novel? In what ways do they resonate with the experiences of the other main characters?
  • The book highlights the role of institutions such as the Catholic Church in the displacement of Jewish children during WWII. What responsibilities do institutions have in the face of war and humanitarian crises, especially when it comes to the welfare of children? How do you think institutions can balance their obligations to protect vulnerable individuals with their broader responsibilities to society as a whole?
  • The characters in this book come from different backgrounds and were raised in different environments. How did their individual experiences shape their responses to being displaced? Did Ana and Oskar’s experience with a Christian family in Poland differ from Roger’s upbringing in a French monastery, or Renata’s search for answers about her past? How did their unique experiences shape their perspectives on identity and belonging?
  • Roger’s initial reaction to Renata’s German heritage was fraught with difficulty. Do you sympathize with his decision to break things off with her? How does his struggle with Renata’s background reveal broader themes of identity, trauma, and healing? What ultimately draws them back together, and what does this say about their characters?
  • Ana and Oskar react differently to being taken away from their original family and placed with a new one. How does this experience shape their relationship in the decades that follow? What ultimately brings them together, and what do their struggles to connect with each other reveal about the complexities of family and belonging?
  • Which of the four main characters did you find the most compelling, and why? How did your connection to that character influence your reading experience and your understanding of the novel’s themes?
  • Roger’s preoccupation with riddles and questions about identity and belonging is a recurring theme throughout the novel. What do you think drives his search for answers, and how does his journey contribute to the overall themes of the novel?
  • Israel plays a significant role in the novel, both as a physical location and as a symbolic representation of identity and belonging. How does the author portray Israel, and what does it represent for each of the main characters? Were you surprised by any of the ways in which Israel was characterized in the novel?
  • Renata’s quest for answers about her past is a central theme in the novel. Do you think she will ever uncover the truth about her childhood and birth parents, as Ana did? How might this information change her life, and what role does the search for one’s own identity play in our lives? Is it important to have knowledge of our past, or can we move forward without it?
  • The novel is inspired by historical events, including the post-war efforts to reclaim Jewish children for Israel, the Church’s efforts to keep hold of the Jewish children it harbored, and the kidnapping of non-Jewish children during World War II. Were you aware of these events before reading the book? How did learning about them through the characters’ experiences impact your understanding of the historical context?
  • The novel is based on true stories of children who were displaced during WWII. How did the author use historical facts and events to create a fictional narrative? Did the fictional aspects of the story enhance or detract from your understanding of the historical events? What impact did the personal stories of the characters have on your understanding of the larger historical context?
  • The author chose to introduce Renata’s story much later in her life compared to the other characters. What impact did this structural decision have on the portrayal of Renata’s character? How does her later introduction affect the reader’s understanding of her struggles with identity and connection to her past?
  • Ana’s discovery that she may not be Jewish and her reflections on the women who took on motherly roles in her life have a profound impact on her sense of identity and her role as a mother. How does Ana’s journey contribute to the overall themes of the novel? What do her experiences reveal about the complexities of identity and belonging?
  • Jennifer Rosner uses a multi-perspective narrative structure, with each chapter alternating between the viewpoints of Roger, Ana, Oskar, and Renata. How do the different worldviews of the characters shape the story and contribute to the themes of the novel? In what ways does the narrative structure impact the reader’s understanding of the characters and their experiences?
  • Eva’s work with a Jewish reclamation organization raises important questions about complicity and responsibility. How do you understand Eva’s motivations, and do you sympathize with her actions? How do the actions of characters like Eva contribute to the overall themes of the novel?
  • Shmuel’s statement that a mother is like a nesting box has important implications for the novel’s themes of family, identity, and belonging. How do you interpret this statement, and how does it apply to the experiences of Oskar and Ana? What do their experiences reveal about the complexities of maternal love and the search for a sense of home?
  • The experiences of Ana and Oskar shed light on the complexities of the Jewish child reclamation effort. How does the novel explore the potential benefits and harms of this effort, and what broader ethical questions does it raise? Do you see these issues as black and white, or are there shades of moral gray?
  • The Church’s decision to hide Roger from his relatives reflects a complex moral viewpoint. Can you understand the reasoning behind this decision, and what broader themes of faith and morality does it bring up? How does this decision impact Roger’s journey towards healing and finding his true home?
  • At the end of the novel, each character makes a wish in front of the Western Wall. What do these wishes reveal about their characters, and what do you think the future holds for them? How do their experiences throughout the novel inform your predictions for their future?

Selected Reviews for Once We Were Home

“Rosner’s new novel is about the ways we seek family despite the wounds we carry. The stories of her characters fit beautifully together like nesting boxes, building to become an ode to love in its many forms. A brave and ultimately life-affirming book.” ―Jai Chakrabarti

“Rosner’s novel reflects personal interviews and in-depth research…She illuminates the complex and opposing political and religious viewpoints…Rosner’s heart-wrenching revelations in Once We Were Home will persist in readers’ minds for seasons to come.”
―Historical Novel Society

“Rarely have I read such subtle and precise prose, and rarely have I been more moved. One turns the final page with tears of happiness and satisfaction, but above all, with a new appreciation for our unknowable connections, our shared humanity, and our universal desire for home.” ―Natalie Jenner

“A spell-binding tapestry, with countless twists, turns, and stunning revelations along the way. Rosner’s ability to conjure the hearts and minds of these children is nothing short of miraculous; it’s impossible not to fall in love with them, and even harder to let them go at the end of the book.” ―Helen Fremont

Additional Recommendations

Hope you enjoyed my book club discussion questions and reading guide for Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner!

Here are some more of my book club recommendations:

Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner
the yellow bird sings book 1

In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.

As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:

The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.

In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.

Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope―a whispered story, a bird’s song―in even the darkest of times.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
the only woman in the room book 2

Bestselling author Marie Benedict reveals the story of a brilliant woman scientist only remembered for her beauty.

Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich’s plans while at her husband’s side and understood more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarr, screen star.

But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis and revolutionize modern communication…if anyone would listen to her.

A powerful book based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece that celebrates the many women in science that history has overlooked.

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall
looking for jane book 1

2017: When Angela Creighton discovers a mysterious letter containing a life-shattering confession, she is determined to find the intended recipient. Her search takes her back to the 1970s when a group of daring women operated an illegal underground abortion network in Toronto known only by its whispered code name: Jane.

1971: As a teenager, Dr. Evelyn Taylor was sent to a home for “fallen” women where she was forced to give up her baby for adoption—a trauma she has never recovered from. Despite harrowing police raids and the constant threat of arrest, she joins the Jane Network as an abortion provider, determined to give other women the choice she never had.

1980: After discovering a shocking secret about her family, twenty-year-old Nancy Mitchell begins to question everything she has ever known. When she unexpectedly becomes pregnant, she feels like she has no one to turn to for help. Grappling with her decision, she locates “Jane” and finds a place of her own alongside Dr. Taylor within the network’s ranks, but she can never escape the lies that haunt her.

Looking for Jane is “a searing, important, beautifully written novel about the choices we all make and where they lead us—as well as a wise and timely reminder of the difficult road women had to walk not so long ago” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Thank you for reading my book club discussion questions and as always, happy reading! 📕