When We Danced on Water
Fromacclaimed author Evan Fallenberg, an exquisitelycrafted debut novel tells the story of a preeminent male ballet dancer in theautumn of his career—a Jew whose talent once saved him from the Nazis—whosefading passion for life will flare back to life after a new romance links himto a younger woman fleeing the ghosts of her past as an Israeli Soldier. Fallenberg’s Tel Aviv-set tale that will resonate withreaders of Wladyslaw Szpilman’sThe Pianist, Dalia Sofer’sThe Septembers of Shiraz, and Thrity Umrigar’s The Space Between Us, as well as any whohave been touched by war or diaspora, as two characters’ intimate journeypoignantly explores the pain of fractured pasts, the hope for second chances, thepotency of artistic catharsis, and the certainty that love can conquer all.
Praise For When We Danced on Water: A Novel…
— Jerusalem Post
“Quietly spectacular and emotionally satisfying...Fallenberg achieves the near-impossible, superbly crafting an altogether unique Holocaust story made plausible through utterly gripping realism.”
— Miami Herald
“When We Danced on Water is literary fiction that reads like a long short story. Packed with intensity in both plot and psychology, its effect is disproportionate to its brevity. Reading about Teo and Vivi is like experiencing a lifelong relationship with each protagonist.”
“When We Danced on Water is a haunting, beautifully written story about the unlikely friendship between two artists...Fallenberg’s novel is exquisite.”
“Fallenberg’s precise prose moves fluidly between the delicate and the bold, much like the aging dancer whose story he tells with such elegance. His spare style sneaks up on the reader, enhancing the emotionality inherent in his subject.”
— Publishers Weekly
“As their pasts are revealed, an unexpected blessing bears testament to the beauty and the sustainability of their unconventional relationship.”
“The sensitivity that Fallenberg brings to the writing devoted to Teo’s life as a dancer in the Danish Royal Ballet, in the wings and on stage, is passionately evocative.”
— Shelf Awareness
“The poetic [When We Danced on Water] is read easily in a few sittings, and the light of Tel Aviv, the pure beauty and sensuality of dance and the powerful affirmation of life, are deeply felt.”
— New York Jewish Week
“Fallenberg’s paradoxical propositions of passion as suffering, and that a life without passion is devoid of meaning, leaves us with an insolvable quandary and a Buddhist diagnosis: life is suffering, one way or another.”
— Brooklyn Rail
— Washington Jewish Week
Harper Perennial, 9780062033321, 256pp.
Publication Date: May 17, 2011
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
Discuss Teo’s arc as an artist, and Vivi’s. Where do they intersect? In what way are their artistic paths similar/dissimilar?
The line between passion and obsession is an issue with which When We Danced on Water grapples on several levels. Discuss.
Teo is characterized as someone who delves deeply into one art, while Vivi opts for breadth. Do you identify with one of these characteristics more than the other?
Time and place are very nearly characters in this book: 1920s Warsaw; pre-war Copenhagen and the Royal Danish Ballet; Berlin during World War II and in the 1980s; modern Tel Aviv. How did these settings affect your experience of reading When We Danced on Water?
In an early version of the novel, the scenes with Teo and Vivi together were written as a play (HE: SHE:, stage directions instead of narration). Can you still feel something of that in the novel?
Did you find the writing about dance enriching or offputting?
Of all the main characters in this book (Teo, Vivi, Freddy, Margo, Nelly, Pincho) only Freddy is involved in a traditional family relationship. Discuss.
Do you consider Teo a victim of the Holocaust? Why/Why not?
In your opinion, who got more out of their relationship – Teo or Vivi?
On love: do you think that Freddy loved Teo? That Teo loved Freddy? That Teo loved Vivi? That Vivi loved Teo?
About Freddy, the writer Cynthia Ozick wrote that “together with all his ceaseless predatory impulses, many of them graphically and nightmarishly frightening, there is something rounded and human in Freddy: he is a complex villain.” Discuss.
Novels, like life, do not provide the ending to every aspect of every story and sub-plot. Of all the characters in When We Danced on Water, whose story-after-the-story most intrigues you?
Do you think this book has a happy ending? Why/Why not?