1. After the partition in 1772, Prussia, Russia and Austria divided up Poland. August fought for the Prussians against the Danish in the Schleswig-Holstein War in 1864 and again for the Prussians against Austria in the Seven Weeks War in 1866. He was called again to fight for Prussia in the upcoming Franco-Prussian War, but instead felt compelled to leave and escaped to America. Discuss how wars create uncertainty and cause an increase in immigration.
  • August and Marie lived the unglorified life of pioneers, but more importantly, they were also survivors. Do you feel their story is inspirational?  In what way?  What important lessons can be learned from their lives?
  • Marie accuses August of chasing freedom. Discuss how August sought both freedom of speech and economic freedom. Which one didn’t turn out as he had planned and why?  Many of us think we will have more freedom if we become the boss or own our own business or become farmers. (“Whoever said there is more freedom in farming has never farmed a day in his life. We’re forever at the mercy of the weather.”) Have you chased freedom in your own life and how did that turn out for you?
  • Racism is touched on in the novel. Even though August had never encountered an African American (the term Negro was used back then), he believed that “all men were created equal in the eyes of God” which came from his devout Catholic faith. Do most Catholics today feel the same way or is prejudice unconnected to religious beliefs?
  • When August and Marie lived in a sod house in Kansas, times were hard without running water, indoor plumbing, phones or the computer or internet like we have today. Do you think life was more stressful back then or is it more stressful today? Why? Do you think people were happier back then?
  • Do you believe that the Indians may have had good reasons for stealing horses or cattle or killing white men because the white men slaughtered the buffalo and caused its disappearance which the Indians depended on for their livelihood? Why or why not?
  • We live in a culture that values independence so much it becomes difficult to ask for and receive help. August never envisioned a life where he would need to ask for help. How did August and Marie end up surviving disaster and poverty?  Was it their faith that got them through the tough times or the kindness of strangers? What lessons can future generations learn from them?
  • One of the underlying themes of the book is August’s continually tested faith. Do doubts of faith make August’s faith stronger or weaker?
  • The book combines historical fiction with family history and uses genealogy as a source of research. After reading it, did you feel compelled to write down your own family history and pursue websites like ancestry.com to do more research? What process have you used in researching your own family tree?