“Honest Deceptions” - It seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? Can a ‘deception’ ever be truly ‘honest’? In this novel, Hannah Hess examines that very issue. And by the time you’ve finished it, you will surely see that such a question isn’t always easy to answer.
Margot Brenner seems to have everything a 25-year-old could want: a medical degree, a pediatric internship at a prestigious New York hospital, an attentive boyfriend. So why does she abandon her boyfriend and internship for a position at a second-rate hospital in a small German city? She knows her father and brother were victims of the holocaust when they became trapped in Germany at the onset of WWII, but she wants … specifics.  Her father’s old friend, Willie Meinhof, who sheltered them as long as he could, and who suffered for that, should know.
In Wolfenbuttel, where Willie and his son, also a doctor, now live, Margot finds surprising resistance from Willie. “Let the past stay buried; let sleeping dogs lie,” is his attitude. But Margot persists, until the answers she finds show that things are rarely what they seem, and that an agonizing choice in 1939 has terrible consequences in the present.
    This is a Holocaust novel, fitting in with so many stories which came from that tragic human event. Who came away unscathed?

Questions for Discussion:

1. The novel opens in Germany in 1939.  What were conditions

  in Europe at that time?

2. Why is the friendship between the Brenners and the Meinhoffs unusual?

3. Willie says “Ah, Martin, we should have left years ago.”  Why did 

so many people, both Jews and Christians, remain after Hitler came

to power?


4. What does Willie propose to Martin?  Why? 

5.What would you do in Martin’s place?  In Willie’s?  Why?

6.What do you think of Margot’s decision to go to Wolfenbuttel?

What complications does her decision present for her?  For Willie?

7.  What does the attitude of John’s parents tell you about class and

  women in America in the early sixties?


8. What does Willie’s description of Margot’s father tell her?  What          does it tell us about Willie?

9. What does the incident in the OR tell you about Dr. Rausch?  about Margot?

10.What reasons does Willie give his son for not getting too close to Margot?  What is his real reason?  If you were Willie, what would you do?

11.What happened to Martin and “Peter”?

12.Why do Clare and Willy move to Kassel.  What is life like for them there?

13.Why, when Willie comes home from the war, do his parents

not tell Willy the truth?

14.What does Margot learn when she goes to Hannover?  How does this complicate her search?

15.What does Frau Lindemann tell Margot about Sonnenstein?

16.What is the relationship between Willy and Brigitte, and how

does that have an effect on his relationship with Margot?

17.Various people (Dr. Speer, Dr. Hermann, Frau Lindemann, Sophie, Pauline) who were in Germany during the war describe their responses to that period?  Which do you find believable?  Why?

18.What reason does Willie give for not wanting Willy to get involved with Margot.  How do Sophie and Willy respond?

19.How does John’s father’s stroke change the relationship between Margot and Willy?

20.How do Margot and Willy learn the truth?

21.How would you have reacted to the revelation?

22.How does the confrontation between Willy and his father affect Sophie?  Willy?  Willie?

23.Explain the meaning of the title.

Review in JEWISH BOOK COUNCIL by Naomi Tropp

At the beginning of World War II, two German medical students and their families develop a close friendship. One of those families is Jewish. Having grasped the danger they face if they remain in Germany, the Brenners book passage on a ship sailing for America. They spend their last night in the home of their friends, the Meinhoffs. That evening their son becomes ill and Martin Brenner insists that his wife and daughter leave without him, assuring them that he will sail as soon as the small boy is well enough to travel. He’s unable to keep that promise and, despite many attempts over the years, Claire Brenner is never able to determine what hap­pened to the husband and son she left behind.

Skipping forward twenty-four years, Claire Brenner has died and her daughter, Margot, has just finished medical school. She arranges a trip to Germany and, before her departure she contacts her parent’s old friend, Dr. Willibald Meinhoff, hoping that he’ll be able to provide some information related to the fate of her father and brother. Although he appears far from enthusiastic about her arrival, she moves forward with her plans, even going so far as to check into a possible internship at the hospital where Meinhoff’s son Willie is also in training. There is a last minute cancellation in that internship program and she is accepted. Willie welcomes her warmly, but his father ap­pears increasingly uneasy about her attempts to dig into the past.

As the story continues to move back and forth in time, a dark secret is uncovered, but, initially, only for the reader. Margot Brenner’s search continues. Rather than issue a spoiler alert, I will only say that the novel deals with the heartbreakingly difficult choices that individuals were forced to make during those horrific times and the complex ways in which those choices altered the lives of later generations.