Reading Group Guide: Munich by Robert Harris

Article published on November 20, 2017.

In the third of the new Nudge reading group guides, Paul Burke poses some questions about Munich by Robert Harris.

1. Munich is described as a thriller, but there are two distinct sections of the novel. The first is a retelling of the historical events leading up to and during the Munich conference (adhering to the known records and documents). The second is a fictional conspiracy to expose Hitler’s secret plans for Czechoslovakia after the Sudetenland is surrendered to him. Do the two aspects of the novel compliment each other? Does Harris successfully marry the two?

2. Chamberlain famously waved a piece of paper on returning from Munich signifying peace. He later declared “peace for our time”. The policy of appeasement has been discredited ever since and Chamberlain’s reputation irreparably damaged. Do you think that Harris represents Chamberlain’s views fairly; does he get a sympathetic hearing? Did reading Munich make you re-examine your opinion of Chamberlain and appeasement? If so, in what way? Does Harris create the impression that Chamberlain was a good or bad negotiator? How much consideration did the British and French give to the Czech leadership?

3. Hitler, Mussolini and Chamberlain are all characters in Munich. Did Harris’ portrayals of these famous people convince you? What are the challenges associated with portraying real people in fiction?

4. The relationship between Legat and Hartmann is central to the conspiracy plot. Did you believe in it? Do they make plausible allies in a conspiracy to expose the Nazi plans? How well drawn are these characters (their respective backgrounds, their motivations for acting)?

5. Plot, style and character are the essential elements of any novel, but there is sometimes a trade off between character and narrative drive in a thriller. Does plot supersede character in the second half of Munich and, if so, does it matter?

6. What do you think are the concerns of using real history in a fiction novel? Does Harris illuminate or distort history in Munich?

7. What would be the outcome if Hartmann succeeded in exposing the Nazis plans? What would happen if the treaty was not signed? What does Harris tell us about the implications for world peace if Chamberlain stood up to Hitler?

8. Munich deals with real events; we are all too aware of the outcome of the meeting in Munich. Does this foreknowledge affect how we read Munich? How does Harris manage to maintain the excitement and enjoyment in the story?

9. Harris is concerned to stay within the bounds of documented history for the story and portray events accurately even though this is a novel. Why do you think this is important to him? Do you think it matters?

Paul Burke
November 2017


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