Based on true events, The Diamond Eye is a haunting story of heroism, born from desperation of a mother who becomes a soldier. It’s a story about the strength and the courage of a female sniper, Mila Pavlichenko, who fought in the Russian Army during WWII. From a studious Ukrainian girl to history’s deadliest skilled sniper known famously as “Lady Death.” The key themes found in this novel are trauma and recovery from wartime experiences. Coming to terms with past losses and assimilating them into a new sense of self.
Hopefully your group is ready for an in depth conversation using The Diamond Eye book club questions. This discussion guide also features a book synopsis and some selected reviews. If you or your group enjoyed reading The Diamond Eye, there are three similar book recommendations provided.
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The Diamond Eye Synopsis
(We always chose to provide the publisher synopsis because we feel that it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the official book description actually squared with your experience of the book.)
The Diamond Eye, Kate Quinn
In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kyiv, wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son—but Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper—a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.
Still reeling from war wounds and devastated by loss, Mila finds herself isolated and lonely in the glittering world of Washington, DC—until an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and an even more unexpected connection with a silent fellow sniper offer the possibility of happiness.
But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a deadly new foe lurking in the shadows, Lady Death finds herself battling her own demons and enemy bullets in the deadliest duel of her life.
Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.
The Diamond Eye Book Club Questions
These questions have been tailored to this book’s specific reading experience, but if you want more ideas, we also have an article with 101 generic book club questions.
- What was the most memorable quote from the book for you? Why did it have that effect on you?
- Mila transformed from a bookish student to deadly skilled sniper. What did you think of her personality and her character development?
- Knowing that Mila is a soldier as well as a mother, how did her struggle to juggle both sides influence your opinion of her character? If you were in her place, would you have made the same decision?
- This novel was published at a time where history is repeating itself as Russian and Ukraine are locked in conflict and war. Did you see parallels?
- What was your favorite part of this novel? What was your least favorite part of the novel?
- “Knowledge, to light the path for humankind,” I said at last. “And this”—patting my rifle—“to protect humankind when we lose that path.” How does the novel examine the concept of heroism? Do you think she was a hero? Why or why not?
- What did you think of the author’s handling of the book’s historical background and setting? Were you surprised to find out the story was more fact than fiction?
- How did you feel about the ending of the book? How did the author’s note at the end affect your perception and appreciation of the book? What did you think about Mila’s memoir?
- It’s unclear in the passage from her notes what Eleanor means when she says that “a Russian bullet has given me peace and safety to do it.” Does that imply that she supports Mila’s sniper tactics, or is there another meaning behind her words?
- How did Mila’s wartime experiences affect her character and point of view throughout life, and how did it impact her relationships with others both during and following the war?
Selected Reviews for The Diamond Eye
(Use these selected Goodreads reviews to compare with your own experience of the book. Do you agree or disagree with the reviews?)
“The dazzling story of the multi-faceted, Mila Pavlichenko, and the life of the girl who became a mother, having been seduced at a very young age, the mother who became the reluctant wife, the wife who became a soldier, and the soldier who became one of WWII’s greatest snipers, and the sniper who became a diplomat to the US. Kate Quin has done it again and found another unfamiliar female war heroine, and having brilliantly researched her life and memoirs, has delivered another immersive, captivating and eye-opening account of a dark period in our history and the personal anguish felt by so many on both sides.”
“If you are a Language Arts teacher, this novel is an example of showing and not telling. A could be a great story about a true heroine that is wearisome. Thin character development, dialogue that does not offer depth, opportunities to describe war on the front line gone amiss, and a mother & son relationship that sadly never evolved on paper…”
“I was thrilled when I heard that Kate Quinn was writing a book about Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a historical figure who has long fascinated me and who I’ve felt more people should know about. This novel absolutely did NOT disappoint, as indeed Quinn’s novels never do. The characters were impeccably drawn, and the breadth of research was truly impressive. Quinn also managed to vividly convey the horrors of war, as Lyudmila is on the front lines of the Soviet Union struggling to repel the Nazi invasion.”
“It took me 4 months to get through this one, I kept making myself go back and pick it up to finish it, hoping it would eventually capture my interest […] In the end, I found this novel boring, difficult to get into, unable to connect with the characters etc.”
3 Books Like The Diamond Eye
If you’d like to read more of Kate Quinn, we also have a discussion guide for The Rose Code. And if you’ve already read and liked that one, we’ve also got a list of books like The Rose Code, which features historical events, strong female characters and war.
And if your book group is keen for more historical fiction set during WWII, check out our discussion guides for The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Pachinko, The Nightingale, and All the Light We Cannot See. Along with an article feature more books like All the Light We Cannot See.
Girl at War: A Novel, Sara Novic
This story is focused on a 10-year-old girl, Ana, who becomes exposed to danger when the Yugoslav civil war in Croatia breaks out in 1991. The story has a 10-year time jump to the year 2001, where Ana is now a college student in the US. The story continues to jump between the two timelines showing how Ana has been impacted and shaped by the war. The author does a great job showing the challenges of war through a child’s perspective.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, Karen Abbott
(Subtitle: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War)
A true story about four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War. Each one of them in their own way contributed to helping the Confederate army. The author seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines into one beautiful story.
A Girl Called Samson, Amy Harmon
This story is centered around a Puritan girl named Debroah Samson who lives in Massachusetts. When the American Revolutionary War comes, they must fight for independence. Deborah disguises herself as a male soldier and enlists in the Continental army. As she fights for her country’s freedom, a surprising love forms.
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Authored by Janelle Kennedy
Janelle is an avid reader who was born and raised in Las Vegas, NV. She enjoys reading and writing in her spare time. When not reading or writing, she’s working at a rural elementary school as an instructional aide, helping kids learn to read and write.