American antisemitism has scarred twenty-three-year-old Anna and her parents in various ways. Her parents have cut their ties with Judaism, while Anna craves connection but fears the label ‘Jew.’ As America erupts in civil unrest during spring 1968, Anna plans a student’s Western European summer with a friend. When chance disrupts her vacation, she embarks on a dangerous journey through Eastern Europe and into the heart of the Balkans. Steeped in Yugoslav history, she visits sites of tragic ethnic suffering. But more importantly, she meets both Jews and non-Jewish minorities repressed by their regimes. Through these experiences, and a deep bond with a Macedonian separatist that opens her to love but puts her in danger, she undergoes a spiritual awakening and proudly embraces her Jewish identity.
Anna’s Dance: A Balkan Odyssey
July 21, 2013
Courtesy of Michele Levy
- In 1968, the world erupted in chaos. How did that context affect the characters in the novel?
- Discuss what the title means. In what sense is Anna’s journey an odyssey? What does dance signify as metaphor or theme?
- The Holocaust and antisemitism play important roles in the novel. How does the novel show their imprint on Jewish, American, and Balkan history? Consider how they shape Anna.
- Alienated from her country, family, and Jewish roots, Anna has never felt “at home.” Discuss what factors you think contribute to this. Where does she finally find “home”? What does she feel it to be?
- Though patriarchy still dominated in the late sixties, feminism was on the rise (Ms. Magazine, 1972). Is Anna a feminist? Would that alone account for her problem with intimacy? What other reasons might there be?
- What do Anna, Max, and Spiro have in common? How do those two male characters help Anna complete her odyssey?
- Given her issues with intimacy, why do you think Anna stays in a tiny mountain town with a man she just met whose identity may be suspect? To what is she responding?
- Discuss the bond between Anna and Max. Does it change as the novel progresses? If so, in what way?
- The novel mentions many ethnic minorities: Jews, African Americans, the Irish, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Armenians, and Greeks. Despite the unique history of each, what do they all have in common? What identity issues do they share?
- “Love” resonates throughout her trip as well— its absence, the varied forms it can take, the positive and negative effects it can have. Discuss what you think Anna learns about love.
- Does your view of Anna change as she moves through her journey? What path do you imagine her taking once she returns to America?
- Discuss any parallels you see between the socio-political climate of 1968 and that of 2021. Is there a way forward for Anna or any of us?
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