Reading Group Guide
1. All That I Am is a novel is based on real people’s lives. What does a fictional narrative offer a reader and writer that pure history does not?
2. The novel is told in past and present, and the voices of two characters, Ruth and Ernst. What do these different viewpoints add to the telling?
3. In reflecting on her life, Ruth attributes her survival to “God’s irrationality.” Why does she say this?
4. Describe Dora. How did Ruth see her? What about Ernst? Discuss their relationships. How did Dora influence Ruth? How did Ernst influence Dora? Why was she so devoted to him? Dora saw Ernst as a hero. Do you think she was braver than he was?
5. What were the forces that held Dora, Ruth, Ernst, Hans, and their friend Bertie together? How much did their youth contribute to their idealism? What kept them from falling under the spell of Hitler like so many of their contemporaries? How did they fight back against their enemies?
6. Would you call Dora, Ernst, and their friends inspiring or foolish? Do people like Dora and Ernst make a difference in the world? What drives someone to sacrifice her life for a cause?
7. What would have happened to Dora, Ernst, and Ruth if they had not fled Germany? Ruth plays down their plight. “There was nothing grand about us though. Everyone was dislocated and struggling---without our language, without money, without readership or purpose. Our lives only had meaning if we were to continue to help with the underground in Germany, and to alert the rest of the world to Hitler’s plan for the world.” Is that truly the only reason their lives held meaning?
8. What was life like for these exiles in England? Why did they have such a difficult time spreading their message? How did they cope with their fear---both before they left Germany and after?
9. What caused Hans to act as he did? Did you see this coming?
10. What ultimately happened to Dora? How did the final events of the novel affect Ernst and Ruth? Would you say they suffered from survivor’s guilt?
11. In reading All That I Am, how much control did the characters have over their own lives? How much control do you think anyone has---or are individuals pawns of those in power?
12. At the novel’s end, Ruth poses the question: “Will the world forget we tried so hard to save it?” How do you answer her?