1. Does the fact that this novel is inspired by true events make
any difference to your connection to the story? To the individual
characters? Why or why not?
2. Very early in the novel, we read of the older Clara: "Writing
had always saved her. It would do so again." (p. 6) In what ways
has writing "saved" Clara during different times of her life?
3. The Austrian experience of World War II, and the years
preceding and following it, is not as well known in North America
as the French, British, or German. Did reading Patient
Number 7 give you any new information or insights into the
social, political, and philosophical climate of this period of
4. Even though this novel takes place in some of the darkest
days of WWII, Kurt Palka's presentation of the characters'
decisions and their responses to events and to the affects those
events have on their lives, is understated, even minimalist: he
describes without arguing for either blame or exoneration. Why do
you think the author takes this approach?
5. Although it is clear that Clara loves Albert very much, there
are a moments in the relationship when she questions whether she
should marry him or not. Why does she hesitate in these
6. On pp 296-97, we read some lines that Clara has been trying
to recall, from William Butler Yeats' Purgatory:
They know at last the consequence of their
either upon others or upon themselves.
If upon others, then others may bring help,
if upon themselves, there is no help but in
and in the mercy of God.
What events bring on Clara's memory and what is the relevance of
the notion of "purgatory" to her at this point in her life?
7. During her university years, Clara is introduced to the idea
of "As-ifness." What do you understand by this unusual term? What
role does the notion play in Clara's life, and in the lives of
other characters in Patient Number 7?
8. Many of Clara's notes were written to pass on to her children
and to those who she says might want to know how small fires
ignored can become infernos. Yet she burns some of her notes at the
end. Which notes do you think she burns, and why?
9. How does the novel's epigraph, Abbé Ferdinando Galiani's
reminder to Mme. Louise d'Épinay that: "The important thing,
Madame, is not to be cured, but to live with one's ailments,"
relate to Patient Number 7? There could be many
levels at which the phrase resonates.
10. Think about the different ways that the major female
characters are presented in the novel, in contrast to the male
ones: is there a general difference that you can see? If so, what
do you think Kurt Palka is saying in presenting his characters this
11. For much of Patient Number 7, there is a
power struggle of some kind going on, more or less aggressively, as
the backdrop to the characters' lives: how does this fact inform
the way key characters (Clara; Albert; Mitzi; Peter) choose to
live, and to explain why they so choose?
12. The notion of deserving someone or something
appears a few times, in very different contexts, in Patient
Number 7. (See pp. 97, 215, and 360.) What does it mean to
the various characters who talk or think about it? Is it a notion
that resonates with you? Why or why not?