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Discussion Questions for A Trial in Venice by Roberta Rich
Where you ever lost as a child?
Did you ever lose a child?
As women, Hannah and Cesca are at a disadvantage because of the time and place in which they were born. Discuss the ways in which each of them survive and overcome obstacles. How would their lives be different as modern women?
Does Cesca’s background explain her attitudes and approach to getting ahead in the world?
Does the fact that Hannah is Jewish make her decisions and attitudes different from gentile women?
If you were writing a book about the 16 th century, where would you locate your novel?
Did you find the ending satisfying or would you have preferred a different ending?
Do you think modern partners faced with the challenges that faced Hannah and Isaac would survive as a couple?
Did the religious conflict described in the book give you insights into todays’ religious conflicts?
Anti-Semitism is, unfortunately alive and well in the modern world. Why do you think it has persisted for so many hundreds of years?
Andreas Palladio was an influential architect whose books are still studied today. Do you enjoy reading about actual historical figures?
Hannah faces many moral dilemmas in the course of the book. Do you think she did the right thing in leaving Isaac and Jessica and sailing to Venice to find Matteo? What about in returning to deliver Bianca’s second baby?
What details in the book do you feel create a sense of time and place?
Do you enjoy the structure of a novel told from two points of views, in this case Hannah’s and Cesca’s?
Do you feel the character of Asher was plausibly written?
Other Topics for Discussion
1. How does Rich bring the worlds of sixteenth-century Venice and Malta to life, using the senses of sound, smell, and taste? What passages were most viscerally powerful for you?
2. Do you think the Conte’s love of his wife is genuine? Why or why not?
3. Rabbi Ibraiham warns Hannah that by choosing to save the life of her husband, she is endangering the life of the entire ghetto. (p 15) What do you think of this statement? Is she making the right choice? What would you do?
4. Discuss the uneasy truce between the Venetian Jews and Christians. Do you get a sense that the ghetto gates are there to keep the Jews in, or the Christians out?
5. As he is being auctioned, Isaac stands up to taunts, with the rationale that “He who tolerates insults invites injury.” (p 28) What do you think of this sentiment?
6. Sister Assunta offers Isaac a slice of apple as she attempts to coerce him into conversion. (p 62) Hannah inhales the scent of oranges in the bedclothes as a means of conjuring Isaac’s memory. (p 3) Discuss these and other passages in which Rich employs the symbolism of fruit.
7. Discuss the character of Sister Assunta. Did you feel she was a sympathetic character, or a villain, or something in between? Do you think her business deal with Isaac will succeed? Why or why not?
8. Who do you think is the wealthy benefactor who has collaborated with Rabbi Ibraiham to ransom Isaac, as long as he divorces Hannah?
9. Discuss the means by which Hannah and Isaac cling to their faith, despite the many temptations to convert. How are their approaches to the Jewish faith similar, in your opinion? How are they different, and why?
10. The title of the book, as well as the location, period, and other details (such as the character of Jessica) appear to be a spin on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. If you have read this play, discuss some of the ways Rich mines this literary territory.
11. When terrified about his escape, Isaac considers the words of the philosopher Maimonides: “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” (p 273) What do you think of this idea?
12. Hannah hangs the shadai around Matteo’s neck at his birth, as an amulet of protection. Does it ultimately work? If so, how?
13. What do you think the future holds for Hannah and her family?
14. Can you imagine this book translated into film? What details would you keep, and what would you change? If you were casting the film, what actors would you choose?