Discussion Questions for Fugitive Colors:
1. Lisa Barr wrote in Modern Luxury: “Hitler’s War began with the systematic destruction of the avant-garde, and now ironically, seventy years later, it is the piece of Holocaust history still making front-page news.”Why do you think there is such a renewed interest in this topic?
2. How does Hitler’s background as a want-to-be painter connect to the character of Felix in the novel? When Felix asks Julian if he has talent, how should Julian have answered? If he had answered differently, would it have changed things? Is rejection to blame for Felix’s downfall?
3. What happens when René finally admits that he’s in love with Charlotte? Did Felix change before their eyes or had his venom and hate been there all along? Or, was Felix brainwashed as his mother claimed? Who betrayed who? Did René betray Felix or did Felix betray himself?
5. Who the hell am I to save Germany’s artists? Julian thinks to himself. “And yet, Engel, the artist, had showed him how to paint, how to see and feel color, how to believe he could somehow make a difference. Julian, the Jew who gave up his religion for art, was now being chosen for something bigger.”Why does Engel choose Julian to penetrateWilhelm Von Bredow’s inner circle? Why not René? Do you agree with Engel’s assessment of Julian? Is Julian “extremely naïve and easily convinced,” or is he the hero in the novel?
7. Julian describes Charlotte as “lacking warmth and vibrancy,” “empty and callous,” “lifeless,” and a “seductive snake . . . ugly on the inside. Does she prove him right? Is she to blame for breaking up the friendship between Felix, René, and Julian? What is her role in the story, and how much responsibility does she bear?
8. Why does Charlotte love René? Do you believe that their love is true? Charlotte argues that “it doesn’t matter that Felix claimed those paintings . . . the important thing is that René Levi’s artwork survived the war.” Do you agree? What’s more important: the art or the artist? In the end, why did Felix display Julian’s painting as his most important piece? Does Felix deserve Julian’s pity?
9. Lisa Barr wrote in the Huffington Post:“Behind every surviving ‘Matisse’ is the untold story of scores of young, aspiring artists whose potential brilliance never saw the light of a canvas; whose talent was destroyed too soon to have a legacy.Those artists whose hands were bound must have their place in our history.” Does Barr succeed in giving a voice to these unknown artists?
Questions compiled by Rachel Kamin, Director, The Joseph and Mae Gray Cultural & Learning Center, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El