David Hirshberg


My Mother's Son

Discussion questions for My Mother’s Son

  1. How does the opening line – “When you’re a kid, they don’t always tell you the truth”–manifest itself throughout the book?
  2. Do you relate to the opening line and if so, how?
  3. The author drops tells like breadcrumbs to presage later events. The very first one is the word “smirk” on page 2. Can you identify others?
  4. While the origins of Joel and Steven’s names are noted, why are their parents’ names never mentioned?
  5. Is it a coincidence that four men are named Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Solomon or are they simply representative of Jewish American names from the late 19th and early 20th centuries?
  6. In 1952, Joel and Steven biked all over Boston. What does that say to you about the cultural changes that have taken place in the last 60 plus years?
  7. Does the use of foreign words, such as Schickalsfrage, enhance or impede your reading?
  8. Was the dilemma that Dr. Daniel Burgas faced in Korea similar to what Dr. Jacob Goldblum faced in Germany? What does that say about the choices we face?
  9. Who is the most important character in the book and why do you feel this way?
  10. Since Joel is a radio raconteur, is it possible that he made up all the stories? If so, why would he have done this?
  11. What does the author mean when he writes, “…solitude in moderation can be an ally if you get along famously with your conscience”?
  12. Do you agree that, “There’s no difference whether you hear something from the point of view of first person actual or third person fictional if it interests you, moves you, or gets you to think about things from another perspective”?
  13. There are three distinct generations in the book, examples of which include: Papa and his pals; the boys’ parents and aunt and uncle; and the boys’ friends. Are the generational distinctions presented in the book a thing of the past or do they exist today, and if so, how have they changed?
  14. What is your reaction to what the author says about the events of 1952: that they were “…the prism that refracted our societal attitudes, values, and policies toward war, disease, politics, sports, business, and immigration”?
  15. Does setting the book in an earlier time allow you to have a conversation about current headlines without wrapping them in today’s ‘talking heads’ political climate?
  16. One can read this novel on three different levels: (1) As a novel of Jewish identity; (2) As a story–you could say a Bildungsroman; and (3) As a mirror for what’s going on today. Discuss how each of these resonated with you.


Copyright 2021 David Hirshberg