Zoya and Elena’s true parents were killed by an officer under Leo’s command. Do you think Leo was morally required to take care of them?
When Leo was a member of the state security force, it was his job to arrest many of his fellow citizens. To what degree should he be held responsible for his past actions, even though he was doing his duty and following orders?
How do you think the political atmosphere and the role of women in society affected Fraera’s transformation from a priest’s wife to a vory leader?
Raisa seems willing to sacrifice her relationship with Leo to save Zoya. What do you think of her decision?
As rioting gulag prisoners prepare to execute Sinyavksy, the camp commander, he pleads that he should be spared because in addition to the terrible things he has done while running the gulag, he has also tried help when he could. “Can I not try and put right the wrongs I have done?” he asks. Should the prisoners have given him a second chance?
Zoya ends up seeking her revenge on Leo by joining Fraera’s gang, but in doing so she hurts her little sister, the only family she still has. What do you think of Zoya’s actions?
Leo was trained to be a devoted, loyal servant of the State, but he forged an unorthodox path for himself outside of the security services, despite the clear risk. Why do you think he was able to do this, when so many others couldn’t or wouldn’t?
At the end of the story we meet a musician who is revered as a genius, but his work was actually stolen from another composer who died in the gulags. If he were to reveal the true source of his music, he would be exposed as a fraud and arrested as a thief. Now riddled with guilt he asks Leo, “What would you have me do?” How would you answer?
There are many “secrets” in this story—Leo choosing to not tell Raisa what he knows about Zoya and the knife, Raisa keeping her meeting with Fraera from Leo, and Khrushchev’s Speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, are only a few—and the question of what the consequences for keeping those secrets might be plays out in ways large and small throughout. Do you feel there are situations in the book where characters were right to keep their secrets? What about the final scene with Leo, Zoya, and Elena? Should Zoya tell her sister the whole truth?