To invite Nadia Hashimi to virtually appear at your book club gathering, email NadiaHashimiBooks at Gmail.com.
Discussion guide for The Pearl That Broke Its Shell can also be found on Reading Group Choices. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell was also featured as a Bookreporter “Bets On” selection and Nadia was spotlighted and interviewed as a Book Brahmin author on Shelf Awareness.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
- Rahima says that Khala Shaima’s story about Bibi Shekiba transformed her, and indeed, this is a novel about transformation. In what ways, besides dressing as males, do Rahima and Shekiba transform themselves?
- When we first meet Khala Shaima, we see that men frequently mock or insult her because of her crooked spine, but her nieces and sister don’t seem to pity her. Does Khala Shaima’s disability work to her advantage?
- Rahima loves being bacha posh for the freedoms it brings; being able to work in the market, play soccer, and go to school. What are the disadvantages of her newfound freedoms and what are the consequences for Rahima and her family?
- “It is up to you to find a way to make things easier for yourself,” Shekiba’s aunt tells her. How do the different women characters in this novel find ways to make things easier for themselves? What about Rahima’s mother? Bobo Shagul? Abdul Khaliq’s wives? The women of the king’s harem?
- Rahima says of her sister Parwin: “In some ways, I think she was the bravest of all. She, my meek and timid sister, was the one who acted in the end. She was the one who showed those around her that she’d had enough of their abuse. As Khala Shaima said, everyone needed a way to escape.” Do you agree?
- Shekiba envies the women of the harem: “At least they belonged to someone. At least they had someone to care for them, to look after them.” Do you think the King’s concubines live an enviable life? Are they better or worse off than women who live outside the palace walls?
- The word naseeb, or destiny, comes up often in The Pearl that Broke Its Shell, as each woman is repeatedly told that she must accept her fate. When Rahima asks Khala Shaima “Wouldn’t people say that is blasphemous? To change the naseeb that Allah has for us?” her aunt responds “…you tell me which of those people who say such a thing have spoken with Allah to know what the true naseeb is.” When do Shekiba and Rahima accept their naseeb and when do they rebel against it? Do you believe in the concept of naseeb in your life?
- What do you make of Shekiba and Rahima’s experiences with their husbands’ other wives? Are they helped or harmed by them? Could you adapt to that kind of married life?
- When Bibi Gulalai opens up to Rahima about her own abusive mother-in-law, Rahima thinks “In other circumstances, I might have told Bibi Gulalai that I understood, that I could sympathize with her.” Does Bibi Gulalai’s revelation change the way you see her? What inspires or empowers the cruelty of older women like her and Shekiba’s grandmother, Bobo Shahgul?
- How do Rahima’s years as a bacha posh ultimately help her escape her marriage to Abdul Khaliq?
- Do you believe that Rahima and Shekiba’s stories end happily? What do you think became of them in the years after this book ends?
When The Moon Is Low
- Fereiba describes herself as “an outsider in my father’s home” as a child, and then becomes a literal outsider as a refugee. What do you think the author is trying to say about being an outsider? Is there anything positive to be gained from having an outsider’s perspective and experience? Who are the outsiders in your family or society?
- In hindsight, knowing what happened, did Fereiba make the right decision to leave Kabul? Was she right to press on towards London without Saleem? What would you have done in her situation?
- Fereiba’s family frequently gets by thanks to the kindness of strangers, particularly Hakan and Hayal, the Turkish couple who take in the family and generously help support them. Why do you think Hakan and Hayal do this? Should Fereiba’s family have stayed in Turkey with them? What compels them to leave a seeming safe harbor and continue to Europe?
- When Saleem is talking with Roksana about why she works to help refugees he “wondered what kind of person he would be if he were in her shoes. Would he take up the cause of strangers? Would he care enough about how people were being treated that he would spend his time handing out food and filling out applications on their behalf? He hoped he would. But it was very possible he wouldn’t.” Would you?What do you make of KokoGul? Is she the classic “wicked stepmother”, or are there more layers to her? What do you think she was like at Fereiba’s age? What motivates her most as a wife and mother?
- Saleem’s journey is dramatically affected by three girls his own age: Ekin, the Turkish farmer’s daughter, Roksana, the Greek aid worker, and Mimi, the Albanian prostitute. What does he owe to each of them? Why do you think they helped him, even when it was risky for them?
- Who is the man Saleem encounters in the refugee camp in Calais? Is he really, as he claims, a friend of Fereiba’s beloved grandfather?
- There is water imagery throughout the novel. As the old man stares out over the English Channel that divides Saleem from his family, we read that “From here is was easy to see the currents, linear streams of water a shade different from the rest of the ocean, like secret passages within the depths.” As Saleem gets closer, Fereiba dreams of him “swimming across a brilliant, blue ocean…There was water all around him, and he glided through, swimming in smooth, strong strokes as if he’d been raised by the ocean.” What is the significance of the water imagery? What message does it carry about the family’s journey?
- What do you think happens to Saleem? Is he ultimately reunited with his family? What will happen to Samira and Aziz? How will their lives be different than their older brother’s?
A House Without Windows
- At the very start of the novel, who do you think killed Kamal? What was the motive for his murder?
- “Dignity is not in what work you do. It’s in how you do that work.” Yusuf’s father tells his family when he takes a job doing manual labor in Pakistan after the family is forced to flee Afghanistan. What other characters in this book live up to that belief? Are there any who do not bring dignity to their work?
- When we meet Latifa in prison, we learn that “Latifa had no interest in leaving Chil Mahtab, a place where she was treated better than she’d ever been treated in her life.” What about Chil Mahtab makes it seem preferable to the outside world to some of the prisoners we meet?
- When Zeba remembers her life with Kamal, she she says to her mother “I should have turned to you. Maybe things would have worked out differently, then. I thought what you did, all those things you did for so many years, thought it was so dark and evil but I know now what evil really is.” What might Gulnaz have been able to do for Zeba? What help, besides jadu, could her mother have given her?
- Why do the villagers go to Hakimi with made-up stories about Zeba and Kamal? Why does Timur tell the story about Kamal burning a page of the Qur’an? Why do they choose to report those stories instead of the truth?
- Gulnaz thinks that “Tamina’s house was a safe place for her grandchildren. Tamina would let nothing happen to the children.” Why is Tamina a good protector for her brother’s children?
- What do you make of Zeba’s reunion with her father? When Zeba contemplates his abandonment of her family and his starting a new one she reflects that “…it made sense to her, too, because she was not completely unlike this man. She too had turned her back on Gulnaz.” Do you believe that? How are father and daughter alike or different in their actions?
- When Zeba returns to Chil Mahtab and inmates begin to tell her the good fortune that they’ve suddenly been blessed with, “Zeba was stunned. She remembered the day these prisoners had laid their problems at her feet. She’d had no answers for them….She wasn’t responsible for any of this—was she?” What do you think?
- Zeba ultimately goes free because of Qazi Najeeb’s somewhat creative approach to sentencing her, which relies on his acceptance of both truth and lies. In the end, is justice served?
- What do you think happens to the characters in this book in the years after this story ends? What will become of Zeba and her family, and her village?