‘Florence Adler Swims Forever’ Book Club Guide
“In my first years in America—in Philadelphia and then Atlantic City—I used to wonder at my parents’ decision. Had they been right to send my brother and then me? Would it have been better to use the ticket for my father, who might have immediately made a better income? If he had done well enough, he could have sent for the whole family.” Joseph plucked at a blade of grass. “Then I became a parent, and I had my answer. You give your children every possible chance.” ―Florence Adler Swims Forever
Set against the beaches, boardwalk and opulent hotels of Atlantic City of the 1930s, Rachel Beanland’s debut novel, Florence Adler Swims Forever, begins with a shocking tragedy that results in three generations of a Jewish family grappling with heartbreak, romance and the weight of family secrets. Touted as “the perfect summer read” and one of the best books of 2020 by USA TODAY, the novel is the winner of the 2020 National Jewish Book Award’s Goldberg Prize, which honors a debut work of fiction.
Join Hadassah Magazine Executive Editor Lisa Hostein on Thursday, June 10 at 7 p.m. ET for a live online event with Beanland as they discuss the book, antisemitism and immigration in the early-20th century—and the sights and sounds of Atlantic City’s Jewish heyday. Register here for the event.
Local book groups are a vital part of Hadassah for many members. If your chapter doesn’t already have a book group, now’s the time to start one! We encourage groups to have their own discussions about Florence Adler Swims Forever after the interview. To facilitate those discussions, we are happy to present the following discussion guide.
Book Club Questions for Florence Adler Swims Forever
- Florence Adler Swims Forever opens with Florence’s death and ends with the birth of Fannie’s baby. How do life and death frame this novel? Describe the way Jewish attitudes toward death and mourning are reflected in the novel.
- In the early 1930s, Atlantic City was seen as the “Jewish Riviera” of the East Coast. In what ways is Jewish culture celebrated within this community? How does the novel reflect the tension between assimilation and acclimation to American society and adherence to Jewish tradition?
- The novel revolves around Esther’s decision to keep Florence’s death hidden from her other daughter, Fannie, and indeed, keeping silent and keeping secrets are threads that run throughout. How did Esther’s request to hide Florence’s death impact other members of the family? How did it impact Anna? Why is everyone willing to go along with it? Discuss the other secrets that are uncovered throughout the book, including Joseph hiding his first engagement from his wife; Isaac hiding his business schemes; and Anna secretly getting swimming lessons from Stuart. Do you think the characters were justified in keeping information from their loved ones?
- Discuss how antisemitism impacts the Jewish community of Atlantic City and the characters in the book. Is there any connection between today’s increasing hatred of Jews and that described in the Florence Adler Swims Forever?
- Through Anna’s storyline, we read about the rise of the Nazi party and antisemitism in Germany as well as the difficulty of bringing her and her family to safety in the United States. Did anything surprise you about the experiences of Anna and her family? What about the reactions of Isaac, Esther, Joseph and other characters to the plight of Jews in Germany?
- How do statements from different characters—Esther’s position on women having political power, discussions of women in college—reflect early-20th-century American views on women? Are there any indications of shifts in attitude toward the greater inclusion of women in higher education or the job market?
- When Joseph and Stuart go to see Florence’s ship sail out of New York, Joseph explains that “you give your children every possible chance” in life. Describe the parental relationships in the book. Do you think that Joseph and Esther are good parents? Discuss the difference in how they treated their two daughters. What about Anna’s mom, or Fannie and Isaac?
- Two characters, Fannie and her daughter, Gussie, have little autonomy in the book: Fannie, who is left in the dark throughout the novel, is hospitalized due to a high-risk pregnancy. Gussie, who is a witness to many of the events of the novel, is only 7 years old. Do you think the author is comparing their lack of agency? How do each rebel? Was it appropriate for Joseph to tell Fannie’s husband, Isaac, to leave? Should Fannie have been consulted?
- Describe the various characters’ socioeconomic status and their relationships to money, in particular Isaac, Stuart and Joseph. How is wealth used and described in the book? Compare Stuart and Isaac’s attitudes toward working in the family business and inherited wealth. What do you make of Stuart’s decision to work with and for his father? Do you think he will be able to fully reverse The Covington’s discriminatory policies?
- Considering Fannie’s thoughts on being denied the chance to mourn Hyram, how do you think she would react to her parents denying her a chance to take part in Florence’s funeral or shiva? Or do you think that she would be grateful that they made a choice that would protect her baby? What might Fannie feel about her—retroactively unjustified—anger towards Florence once she learns the truth?