The Imperial Wife
by Irina Reyn
- As a Russian Jew living in New York, Tanya doesn’t feel at home anywhere. She reflects, “I’m no insider among the oligarchs and, unlike Carl, I’ll never be truly American...I exist elsewhere, in a third unmarked space.” How do class and religion play a role in Tanya’s identity? Do you think Tanya’s experience as an immigrant and as a Jew prevents her from being “truly American” or is there more than one way to be “American”?
- Both Catherine and Tanya understand how the arts help build a cultural and national identity. For immigrants, like Tanya, who exist in that “third unmarked space” what role can art, and stories like The Imperial Wife, play in understanding history and identity? Are there any artists who you feel best represent the immigrant experience?
- Did Catherine’s ambivalence towards motherhood surprise you? Do you think she would have been able to be both a more emotionally present mother and Catherine the Great, or did she have to choose?
- What did you think of Carl and Tanya’s relationship? Throughout the novel, there are comparisons between the “Russian marriage” and the more egalitarian “American marriage” which is dismissed as unrealistic. Did you identify with any of Tanya’s frustrations? Did you agree with her idea of the American marriage?
- Both Carl and Tanya feel a sense of possessiveness over Catherine the Great and her story. Do you have a special bond to any historical figures? Why do you think people form these attachments to particular periods or figures in history?
- Did learning about the real author of Carl’s book surprise you? How did it change your understanding of Tanya and her marriage to Carl? Do you think she ultimately chose her marriage over her career?
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Discussion Questions ." (Viewed on April 1, 2023) <https://jwa.org/programs/bookclub/discussionquestions/imperial-wife>.