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Book Club Kits: A Short Time to Stay Here

Alamance County Public Libraries offer Book Club Kits for check out to area book clubs. Each kit contains 10 copies of a book and a reading guide.

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Book Summary

The summer of 1917 should have been a summer like any other. Stephen Robbins should have been doing the same thing he'd been doing for years past. As a young boy he'd fled his life in a secluded mountain cove and risen through the ranks to become the manager of the South's finest resort, the elegant Mountain Park Hotel. By all rights, he should have spent this summer as host to some of the wealthiest gentry on the East Coast. Hans Ruser, German Commodore of the world's largest and most luxurious cruise liner, Vaderland, should have been sailing yet again with his elite passengers to the far corners of the world. And Anna Ulmann, captivating and beautiful, should have been at home in her New York mansion planning yet another lavish dinner party for her famous husband and his rich and powerful friends. She should have idled away her spare time by taking perfectly staged photographic portraits of the very same people. But war will change everything that should have been in that summer of 1917― the U.S. enters WWI and the Mountain Park Hotel is pressed into service as an internment camp for over 2,000 German nationals, including Ruser and his men. This sudden collision of lives and cultures in the small town of Hot Springs, North Carolina is both frightening and exhilarating. And the unlikely alliance that forms between Hans Ruser and Stephen Robbins will force each to decide just how far they are willing to go to keep peace in the beautiful and isolated mountains. Feisty Anna Ulmann, seeking to assert her independence in a male-dominated world, mysteriously flees south to devote her life to documentary photography. When she steps off the train at the Hot Springs depot one sultry summer day, she could not have imagined the passionate journey that will result when she matches wits with Stephen Robbins. Haunted by demons both past and present, they will face heartbreaking tragedy. Yet together they will discover the true meaning of imprisonment and escape.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you could be present for and witness one scene from the novel “in the flesh,” what scene would you witness? Why?
  2. What one word would you use to describe Stephen Robbins at the beginning of the novel? How does he change during the course of the book?
  3. Why do you think the author chose Stephen Robbins to tell this story?
  4. How would you describe Anna Ulmann when she first gets off the train in Hot Springs? How does she change during the course of the action?
  5. Why do you think the author chose to set this novel in an internment camp? Of all the characters in the novel, who are most “imprisoned”?
  6. A Short Time to Stay Here portrays the collision between two cultures: “high culture” represented by the German interns; and Southern Appalachian Mountain culture represented by the local people. How would you describe these two cultures? How are they alike? How different?
  7. Stephen and Anna are also from radically different cultural backgrounds? How would you describe their different origins? How doe they reconcile their differences?
  8. Who, in your opinion, is responsible for the death of Roy Robbins? Why?
  9. Is A Short Time to Stay Here predominantly a war story or a love story? Why?

About Author

Terry Roberts is the author of four celebrated novels: A Short Time to Stay Here (winner of the Willie Morris Prize for Southern Fiction and the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction); That Bright Land (winner of the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award, the James Still Award for Writing About the Appalachian South and the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction); and, The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival (a finalist for the 2019 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction) and most recently, My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black (Finalist for the 2022 Best Paperback Original Novel by the International Thriller Writers Organization). Roberts’ fifth novel, The Sky Club, was released in July of 2022.

Roberts is a lifelong teacher and educational reformer as well as an award-winning novelist. He is a native of the mountains of Western North Carolina—born and bred. His ancestors include six generations of mountain farmers, as well as the bootleggers and preachers who appear in his novels. He was raised close by his grandmother, Belva Anderson Roberts, who was born in 1888 and passed to him the magic of the past along with the grit and humor of mountain story telling.

Roberts is the Director of the National Paideia Center and lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his wife, Lynn.

Extra Information

Link to photos of the German detainees: