The Moment (Hardcover)

By Douglas Kennedy

Atria Books, 9781439180792, 544pp.

Publication Date: May 3, 2011



From the New York Times bestselling author of Leaving the World comes a tragic love story set in Cold War Berlin.

Thomas Nesbitt is a divorced writer in the midst of a rueful middle age. Living a very private life in Maine, in touch only with his daughter and still trying to recover from the end of a long marriage, his solitude is disrupted one wintry morning by the arrival of a box that is postmarked Berlin. The name on the box—Dussmann—unsettles him completely, for it belongs to the woman with whom he had an intense love affair twenty-six years ago in Berlin at a time when the city was cleaved in two and personal and political allegiances were frequently haunted by the deep shadows of the Cold War.

Refusing initially to confront what he might find in that box, Thomas nevertheless is forced to grapple with a past he has never discussed with any living person and in the process relive those months in Berlin when he discovered, for the first and only time in his life, the full, extraordinary force of true love. But Petra Dussmann, the woman to whom he lost his heart, was not just a refugee from a police state, but also someone who lived with an ongoing sorrow that gradually rewrote both their destinies.

A love story of great epic sweep and immense emotional power, The Moment explores why and how we fall in love—and the way we project on to others that which our hearts so desperately seek.

Conversation Starters from

  1. Thomas Nesbitt tells his daughter “the moment…it’s a very over-rated place.” Do you agree with this statement?  How does Thomas’s notion of the moment change over the course of the book? 
  2. Nesbitt concludes that “everyone has a part of themselves they prefer not to reveal.” What part of himself does he choose not to reveal?  If Thomas had opened himself up to Jan, do you think their relationship would have been different? How do you think the story would have changed if Petra revealed a certain side of herself to Thomas? 
  3. Upon his arrival in Berlin, Thomas attends a concert and states, “You only begin to grasp the importance of an event—and its larger implications vis-à-vis your life—long after it has entered into that realm marked ‘memory.’” Discuss this quotation in terms of Thomas’s reflections on his time with Petra. Did Thomas realize what he had only after Petra was gone?  
  4. How does the time and setting of Thomas and Petra’s love story add to the intensity of their relationship?  Do you think the story would have been as powerful if it did not take place at the foot of the Berlin Wall? 
  5. Betrayal is a key element in The Moment.  How are the main characters betrayed by each other?  By those around them? When does Thomas realize whom he can actually trust? 
  6. What is superbia?  Where and when does it occur in the book and to whom? 
  7. What were your initial reactions to how quickly Thomas and Petra’s relationship was progressed? Do you think it was doomed to fail from the start?  If Bubriski had never gotten involved, would they still be together? 
  8. Thomas has been living with the unresolved secret of Petra’s story for almost twenty years.   Why did he never tell anyone about her?  How does his secret conflict with Alaistair’s notion that Thomas needs “to seek resolutions, tidy endings, in situations that are anything but tidy”? When Thomas finally learns about Petra’s fate does he obtain the “tidy ending” he usually desires?  Why or why not? 
  9. What does snow symbolize in The Moment?  Discuss the various scenes where snow is present including at the scene of Thomas’s accident, his crossing back into West Berlin and his final ride back to his cabin.  
  10. Were you surprised that Thomas had to continually convince himself that his love with Petra was real?  Do you agree with his notion “if you write, everything is material.  And part of me felt that, by getting it all down…that, yes I had met the love of my life”? 
  11. Walter Bubriski informs Thomas that Petra is an agent of the Stasi.  How does Bubriski’s news shred the psychological wall Thomas had built regarding his love for Petra?  Do you think Bubriski knew Petra’s true back story?  
  12. Explain what Thomas means when he calls his love for Jan “qualified.” Why did Jan opt to stay with Thomas even though she knew he loved someone else?     
  13. The Moment is three stories told from three different perspectives: Thomas’s in the present day, Thomas’s in the past, and Petra’s. Why do you think the author chose to construct the novel in such a way?  What elements do the varying perspectives add to the storyline?