The Watchmaker’s Daughter – BOOK CLUB CENTRAL PICK (May 2013)

by Sonia Taitz

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Somehow melding the comedic with the tragic, Taitz weaves an endearing tale of growing up as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors in 1960s and 70s Washington Heights. An excellent portrayal of the ways war seeps into second generations. 

Great for:

  • Anyone interested in the perspective of a second-generation Holocaust survivor
  • Lovers of tragicomedies
  • Those interested in immigrant’s stories

“Cossacks, rampaging through his village, shot the young miller, leaving behind a young widow and three helpless children. This story was my first narrative (3).”

• What role does storytelling play in the book?
• Do you think the parents’ are unable to shield Sonia from their stories of horror?
• Does storytelling play a role in healing?

“There was always a sense of potential disaster in that little West Side store (5).”

• How does real fear play a role in Sonia’s life?

“I cannot remember being born into my own world, my own time frame. I was born into my parents’ world, the world of refugees, immigrants, survivors (8).”

• Discuss the difference between being born into an immigrant family
• What psychological and emotional impact does this have on Sonia?

“My parents were part of the most recent arrivals – Yiddish-speaking Polish and Lithuanian Jews who’d been spat out of Europe by a blast from Hades (9).”

• Discuss Taitz’ writing: is her imagery effective to you, as a reader?

“Sonia, be proud of your name. My mother, she should rest in peace, who you are named for, died by the hands of those Nazis, murderers, may their names be erased from the world.”

• What kind of pressure does Sonia’s name put on her as she navigates creating her own identity?

“That was part of the competition – my life was worse than yours. It was part of the great theme. The Jews suffered more (17).”

• Discuss the role that suffering – and the expression of suffering – plays in the Taitz household.

There was nothing to return to; their culture, what was left of it, was simply transported, bruised as it was, to America and Israel. On these strange New York City streets, stumbling with the language, scraping to reinvent themselves, they were each other’s only harbor (22).

• This is a beautiful and tragic evocation of what it’s like to leave your whole world behind: does Taitz convey this meaningfully to you as a reader?

“And then again, without the known history, without the weight of time – are they really my true kin? (49)”

• What is meant by this?
• What role does the past play in forging one’s identity?

“It was possible to please him, and it was also possible to deeply disappoint him (54).”

• How would you describe Sonia’s relationship to her father? Her mother?

“It never occurred to me then to mourn my mother’s lost career as a performer. I never let her guide my practice on the piano back home, which I balked and avoided (58).”

• How many of us really know the depths of our parents’ dreams?
• This is a lovely passage in that it indicates not only the way people died in the war, but how much people lost of their former selves: do you agree?

“It was a Babel in reverse, language embraced as a form of salvation (100).”

• What role does language play in the immigrant community?

“The soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces – imagine, a Jew able to defend himself – were young and strong, tall and olive-skinned, macho and handsome (101).”

• How does it feel for Sonia and her parents when they witness a Jew as a soldier?

“If Hitler had met me, I thought, I could have had a few words with him, tossed my Tigress-scented hair, and averted all this nonsense. Okay, I would have dyed my Tigress-scented hair blonde (125).”

• How does Taitz weave humour into her narrative? Does it work for you?

Of course, I had to say “yes.” How could I add to the pain of a man who had lost his father to the Cossacks, his watch stores and prized Harley to the Communists, his mother to the Nazis – a man who had suffered with his wife, his son, the English language, acromegaly, and bleeding ulcers? (131).

• What responsibility to children of survivors feel to lessen their parents’ pain?
• How does this take an emotional toll on the second generation? The third?

“For her, at bitter times, all people and places can transform into Lithuania. Even I, her daughter, can be Lithuania. She would not be surprised (191).”

• How does this affect Sonia’s relationship to her mother?

“But now, despite all my care, they will be bereft of a Bubbe who burbles to them in Yiddish about how much she loves them (230).”

• The passing of the immigrant generation has a melancholic undertone to it for the third generation: what does the above-quote allude to?

“My mother, whether or not she understood me, would have died for me (243).”

• Why does Taitz choose to end the book the way she does?

• There are mixed reactions to this book: did you enjoy it?
• Which parts of the book did you experience the most viscerally?
• If you couldn’t connect to the book, discuss the reasons why.
• What types of parents are the Taitzs? Were you ever angry with them?
• Investigate Sonia’s different romantic relationships: what kind of an impact did they have on her understanding of herself? Of what she wants?
• Were there any passages in the book that deeply moved you? If so, which ones?
• Which other immigrant communities may this story relate to? All of them?
• Describe the place of home in the book: what must it be like to never be able to return home?

All books recommended on the website have been read by The Book Dumpling. New titles are added on a continuous basis. To recommend or suggest a book, please email me

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