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Discussion Guide

A Small Hotel

By Suanne Laqueur

It's the summer of 1941. Europe is at war, but New York's Thousand Islands are at the height of the tourist season. Kennet Fiskare, son of a hotel proprietor, is having the summer of a lifetime, having fallen deeply in love with a Swedish-Brazilian guest named Astrid Virtanen. But the affair is cut short and the young lovers permanently parted, first by Astrid’s family obligations, then by America’s entry into the war.


The rigors of military life help dull his heartache, but when Kennet’s battalion reaches France, he is thrown into the crucible of front line combat. As his unit crosses Europe, from the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, Kennet falls into a different kind of love: the intense camaraderie between soldiers. It's a bond fierce yet fragile, vital yet expendable, here today and gone tomorrow. Sustained by his friendships, Kennet both witnesses and commits the unthinkable atrocities of warfare, altering his view of the world and himself. To the point where a second chance with Astrid in peacetime might be the most terrifying and consequential battle he’s ever fought.


With her signature blend of soul-stirring prose and emotional complexity, Laqueur takes readers on a journey through events that shape an American family’s weakest moments and finest hours. A Small Hotel illuminates the experience of ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and their once-in-a-generation camaraderie, courage and resiliency. It’s a novel for the world, a heartbreaking, uplifting story of family, love and human endurance.

This discussion guide was shared and sponsored in partnership with Dartfrog Books.

Discussion Questions

Use these discussion questions to guide your next book club meeting.

At the beginning of the book, the author describes the evolution of the Swedish name Fiskare into Fisher. Rather than correcting their neighbors, the family just changed the sign. Kennet and his family are fond of nicknames as well; old lives and new. How do you think this affected the family’s sense of identity?

Major uses a lot of fun slang to amuse himself and his nephews. Which turn of phrase was your favorite “Majorism”? What forgotten sayings do you remember using during your own adolescent years? Were they berries? 

Marta is hired on the spot for her immediate confidence in the kitchen and her ability to manage the children’s issues with ease. How do you think her past contributed to her ability to succeed in this new role? How do you think her travels helped her career in the house?