Reading Groups

Discussion questions for The Altarpiece

  1. What was it about modern art that so upset/threatened the Nazi establishment?
  2. Why was Hitler so obsessed with acquiring works of art by van Eyck, Vermeer and Rembrandt?
  3. How aware was Anke Junger of the continued persecution of the Jews and at what point do you think she began to understand the realities of the Holocaust?
  4. Do you think Anke had any real feelings for Franz Bauer. Why or why not?
  5. What do you think it was about the Ghent Altarpiece that so enthralled people?
  6. What motivated Hermann Göring to spend so much time, effort and money on his massive art collection?
  7. Why did Anke have a relationship with Konrad, which whom she had little in common?
  8. What happened to the Raphael—Portrait of a Young Man?
  9. Why did Anke react the way she did when Erik came to see her at Dachau?
  10. Will Anke and Erik stay together after the war? What is their relationship built on?


Behind the Book

In 2008 or 2009 I saw a documentary at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston called The Rape of Europa. It was based on a book by Lynn Nichols and told the story of Nazi art looting and destruction during WWII. I thought it was the most fascinating subject I had ever come across.

I went out and bought every book I could find on the subject, all of which we non-fiction. I could find nothing in the historical fiction genre, and I found that surprising. So, I decided to write a novel myself, based on the true stories I learned about while doing this research.

Historical novels can be a wonderful way for people to enter into a new realm of understanding about a time period, a person or an event. I’ve read them my whole life and I felt that, as a history professor myself, I was uniquely positioned to be able to ride the line between offering sound research to tell the true story, and creating fictional characters and situations to allow the reader to dive into that world.

Recommended Reading


Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

Pictures at an Exhibition by Sarah Houghteling

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

A Thread of Grace by Maria Doria Russell

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

The Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro

Headlong by Michael Frayn


The Rape of Europa by Lynn Nicholas

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel

Rescuing DaVinci by Robert Edsel

Saving Italy by Robert Edsel

The Faustian Bargain by Jonathan Petropoulos

Lost Lives, Lost Art by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow

The Venus Fixers by Ilena Dagnini

Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece by Noah Charney

The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick