Discussion Questions

1. Ashes opens with the devastation wrought by the 1903 Kishinev, Russia pogrom. How are the lives of Meyer, Sadie and Miriam forever changed by those horrific events?

2. When Sadie begs Meyer not to go to the store, he responds, “I need to be there. I will not let our livelihood be destroyed” (page 22). Is Meyer right to feel this way? Discuss the consequences of his decision.

3. Of life in America, Miriam tells Rivka, “I was so hopeful we would have a better life here. But I had forgotten how easy it is for life to change in a second” (page 144). Discuss the hopes and dreams of those coming to America in the early 1900s and the conditions that awaited them.

4. Discuss Miriam’s desire for an education and her decision to leave school to work in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

5. When Miriam asks Rivka if there is someone they can complain to about Salutsky’s harassment, she responds, “Not if you want to keep your job” (page 135). Discuss the treatment of the young women who work at the Triangle factory, and the conditions that led to the fire.

6.  Why did the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and other garment manufacturers fear the unionization of their shops? Did the general strike accomplish what the unions hoped it would?

7. After Lazar walks out on his family, Avrum asks Miriam, “If I am so glad he’s gone, why do I feel so guilty about hitting him?” (page 140) Discuss Avrum’s relationship with his father.

8. Loss and guilt are reoccurring themes throughout the book. What do the characters’ reaction to each reveal about them? 

9. The women in Ashes show an inner strength and courage in the face of real danger and unfavorable circumstances. Do you have a favorite female character? Who do you admire most? Least?

10. Consider the role premonitions, dreams, fortune telling and human connections to the dead play in the novel. Do you believe in the spirits of loved ones making themselves known to the living? Do you adhere to any superstitions? Have you ever had your fortune told?

11. What events and themes in Ashes are relevant today?

12. What is the significance of the title Ashes?