Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the importance of Eva's inventing the veil for Asa so that he can protect his eyes and see. What role does Eva play in helping each family member to see the world in new ways?

2. Discuss the transformative effect of Eva's stay on Joseph's character. Do you feel she is a good influence on him? What is her effect on the other members of the household?

3. Eva is a well-educated and experienced world traveler by the time she reaches Windsor. Yet, some of her actions would suggest a surprising naïveté. What role does this naïveté play in her becoming stranded in Canada? In her father's death? In her guarding of the Augsburg Miscellany? Is Eva's naïveté genuine, or is it a way to evade ultimate responsibility for her actions?

4. Insisting on the importance of perfection in the reading of the Torah, Joseph's mother remarks, "Once you start tampering with the truth, all is lost. Wars have, God help us, been fought over the interpretation of single words. We all make mistakes, boys, it's human nature, but then we are obligated to correct them. That's what God expects of us." What do you make of Joseph's taking the Augsburg Miscellany when Eva's back is turned? What motivates him to take it? How does his own interpretation of the act change over the years? Does he feel he has made a mistake and, if so, how does he envision correcting it?

5. Eva often uses her fantastic stories to evade the Ivris' questions about her past. When pressed, she is not above lying. (For example, she lies to Joseph about her husband.) What does Joseph make of Eva's lies? How is he complicit in the stories she makes up about herself?

6. What role does guilt play in Joseph's lifelong love for Eva?

7. In what way (or ways) is Asa wiser than Joseph?

8. Is Joseph's erudition his own way of compensating for his lack of beauty? How does this relate to his feeling that he would avoid the troubles visited upon the beautiful?

9. Asa's hardship is his blindness. Eva's greatest burden (but also her greatest joy) is the Augsburg Miscellany. What is Joseph's ultimate hardship?

10. Joseph creates a character in his successful book and names her Soul. The world seems to be as captivated by her as he is by Eva. Why is this? What does the character of Soul represent to Joseph? To his readers?

11. After achieving early success in his neuroanatomical studies, Joseph goes on to achieve even greater success, late in life, with the publication of The Illuminated Soul. How are Joseph's interests in the brain and the soul related? How are they contradictory? What does Joseph make of the connection between his scientific and imaginative endeavors?