1) Paternity is the story of a diverse extended family with Joel at its center. What forces served to hold the various relationships together and which ones threatened to keep them apart? Can you draw any parallels to your own family?
2) Why did Joel agree to have a child with Lucy, knowing that he would never be able to share that blessing with his parents?
3) Did you find it unusual, or even problematic to the storyline, for the central character to die halfway through the book? Can you think of other novels in which this occurs?
4) Is it possible for a single mother to successfully raise her child in a faith different from her own, as Celeste promised to do, and tried to do? Could she have done better with Ida?
5) By the last chapter, has Ida’s string of bad luck finally ended? Do you think her misfortunes could have been caused by Celeste’s betrayal of Joel’s wishes when she baptized his baby? Do you believe that people’s lives can be cursed?
6) What must it have been like for Emily knowing that she was not the favored grandchild, through no fault of her own? Do you think that Emily's mother, Barb, felt the same way (about not being Sylvia’s favorite child)?
7) Is it surprising that Sammy turned out as well adjusted as he did, considering that he had two moms, and they were of different races and religions?
8) What led Sammy to embrace Judaism? Was there a single defining moment? Do you think Sylvia’s powers (genetic or otherwise) might have extended to Sammy, unbeknownst to either of them?
9) Were you surprised to discover the truth about Stan? What was your reaction?
10) How will Sammy's life change once he finds out who his father was? Do you think he'll be shocked? Angry at having had Joel’s identity kept secret from him? Or will the revelation bring Sammy a greater sense of peace and contentment?
11) Heredity can manifest itself in the most peculiar ways. What specific attributes were passed down from generation to generation in this story?
12) Growing up with Sylvia and Max, Joel was somehow able to transcend his parents’ narrow-mindedness. Do you think their attitudes were shaped in part by their experiences in Europe during the war? To what extent should we forgive the prejudices of those who endured the horrors of the Holocaust?
13) In the closing chapter of Paternity, all four of Sylvia’s grandchildren are “present,” two in body and two in thought. What would Sylvia’s reaction have been had she known how each of her grandchildren turned out? Would she have been satisfied that her mission – to create Jewish offspring - had succeeded? Would she have been able to forgive Ida and continue to love her?
14) Does the twisted outcome of Sylvia's plan teach us that it is fruitless to make plans?
15) Of the many culinary delicacies mentioned in the book, which one did you crave most?