1. Discuss the relationship between Jules and her grandfather. Do you think he made the best decisions for Wendy and his grandchildren? Have you experienced or known grandparents and grandchildren who are closer to one another than to their children and parents?
2. Are you the child or grandchild of someone like Samuel/Szaja (Jules’sgrandfather)—someone who has lived through horrible violence? How has that affected your relationship with them? How does the presence of this history affect generations within a family in relation to their ability to connect with one another and form loving relationships within the family and with others?
3. THE BELIEF IN Angels contains vivid scenes of murder, domestic abuse, drug abuse and alcoholism. Has reading it altered your perspective on any of these issues?
4. What is the impact of keeping secrets for Samuel/Szaja, Wendy, David,and Jules? How could the revelation of these secrets change their lives? Is there good reason to keep some family secrets?
5. The narrative of THE BELIEF IN Angels spans a fifty-year time period, from the ’20s through the ’70s. Discuss the cultural changes that happened in those eras. What are the historical and cultural forces at play in Samuel’s refusal to allow Wendy to move back home when she reveals that Howard is abusing her? What about his inability to view Art Studies as an acceptable college major for Jules?
6. How did you respond to Jules’s struggle to take care of her family? How did that influence the way you responded to Wendy? Did your opinion of Wendy change as you learned more about her? What about the other family members? Who did you relate with most at the beginning? Did your empathy build for another character as the story progressed?
7. Jules has two drug-induced episodes. What happens and what does she take away from each experience?
8. Both Samuel/Szaja and Jules have episodes of dissociative fugues. Describe the way they are triggered and the way it manifests in each of them, keeping in mind the science of mental disorders and the role genetics vs. environment plays in the disorder process.
9. Throughout the story, Jules describes herself as an alien or outsider. How does this shift over time? Does her friendship with Leigh and Timothy influence these feelings? What are your experiences of feeling like an outsider?
10. Jules experiences a recurring nightmare. What is the symbolic meaning of the swordfish within the dream? How does the dream shift in relation to Jules’s experiences throughout the book? What do you think the shifts within the dreams symbolize?
11. Both Jules and Samuel/Szaja experience moments of profound sadness and isolation. How do they resolve their personal doubts with their spiritual beliefs?
12. Both Jules and Samuel/Szaja experience many moments of angel-like intervention. Where in the novel did you find evidence of this possibility? Have you had experiences that support your belief in divine intervention?
13. If the character Moses were a metaphor, what do you think he would represent in the context of this book?