Growing up with his mother in Germany, Peter Debauer knows little
about his father, an apparent victim of the Second World War. But
when he stumbles upon a few pages from a long-lost novel, Peter
embarks on a quest that leads him across Europe to the United
States, chasing fragments of a story within a story and a master of
disguises who may or may not exist. Homecoming
is a tale of fathers and sons, men and women, war and
peace. It reveals the humanity that survives the trauma of war and
the ongoing possibility for redemption.
Bernhard Schlink was born in Germany. He is the author of the
internationally best-selling novel The Reader
which was an Oprah''s Book Club selection. He lives in Berlin and
1. Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called
Schlink''s protagonist "a flawed character who elicits the
reader''s understanding but not affection-until the poignant
denouement." Do you agree with this assessment of Peter? Do you
think Schlink wants his readers to understand but not like Peter?
2. In what ways is Peter''s singular search for the truth about
his father emblematic of the postwar generation of Germans trying
to piece together what transpired during the war and afterward?
3. How is Peter both similar to and different from John de Baur?
Why are both not completely satisfied with who they are? And how
are their quests similar and different? Is history repeating
itself, or has Peter learned some lessons from the past?
4. Reinventing identities comes easily for John de Baur, and
later for Peter himself. Why do the men feel compelled to create
new identities? How easy or difficult would it be for you to
reinvent yourself? Why would you want to? Or why not?
5. What does the United States represent for Peter and for John?
How is it both a positive and a negative place for the two men?
6. What is going on in the last section of the book, during the
professor''s moral experiment in the abandoned hotel? What do the
students, and Peter in particular, learn while there? What does the
professor accomplish? Or do you think he fails?
7. Discuss the significance of the title. What does coming home
mean for the various characters and, do you think, for the author
himself? How was the reunification of Germany after forty years
divided, a form of homecoming?
8. What is the allure of The Odyssey for the characters
in the book? How is it connected to the pivotal pulp fiction book
that Peter finds as a child in his grandparents'' house? How is
The Odyssey connected to this novel, and to the recurring
9. The professor''s book is even called The Odyssey of
Law. Describe the professor''s "iron rule" philosophy and how
it connects with his own odyssey, taking him from Switzerland to
Nazi Germany to New York City and Columbia University.
10. In what ways is this novel both telling a story and
commenting on the importance of stories in our lives? Discuss some
of the stories in Homecoming-the
military/historical stories of Peter''s grandfather, the poetry of
his grandmother, the stories of Peter''s various personas, the pulp
fiction his grandparents edited.
11. Describe the narrator''s voice. Is it appealing? Do you
trust Peter as a narrator? Do you sympathize with him and
understand his motives? Do you identify with him at all?
12. Why does Peter feel such a sense of duty to his
ex-girlfriend''s son, Max? Having no father or children of his own,
why does he want to be a father figure to Max?
13. Describe Peter''s relationship with his mother. As they both
age, do you think they understand each other better? How is
Peter''s relationship with his father''s grandparents, with whom he
spent his childhood summers, different from that with his mother?
Do they share more interests with Peter?
14. Why does Peter keep leaving Barbara and returning to her?
Discuss their relationship. Why in the end is Barbara good for
Peter . . . and different from other women he''s been in love
15. What are the differences between East and West Germany as
shown in the novel? Why is Peter able to pretend to be a professor
in East Germany? Do you think he would have been able to do this in
16. What moral questions about Germany after the war does
Schlink bring up in this novel? How does guilt, both collective and
personal, play into the story? Which generation of Germans seems to
be burdened with guilt? Do you think this generation also feels
betrayed by the previous one?
17. Peter lies to get a teaching job in recently reunited
Germany. He also poses as a historian to get into John''s class at
Columbia. And of course, John lies and poses as various professions
with various names throughout his own career path. What is Schlink
saying about lies and lying? Why do his characters lie? And do they
feel guilty about it?
18. In Homecoming, Peter often concerns himself
with justice; in fact, he even writes his college thesis on
justice. He is also obsessed with other''s, in particular John''s,
views on justice and history. How do you think Schlink''s other
career as a lawyer and law professor affect these meditations on
justice, and the novel as a whole?
19. What is Schlink suggesting about the relationship between
past and present, and between national and personal history?
A child of World War II, Peter Debauer grew up with his mother and scant memories of his father, a victim of the war. Now an adult, Peter embarks on a search for the truth surrounding his mother's unwavering--but shaky--history, and the possibility of finding his missing father.