A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)
- Synopsis (Chapter by Chapter)
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Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
- Characters and Characteristics
- Symbols, Terms & Settings
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A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS: DISCUSSIONS
- What is the present political situation in Afghanistan? What is the history of Afghanistan? How would this information (which is partially available in the novel) influence your reading of the novel?
- What’s the larger significance of being a “harami?” What does is suggest about the social system?
- “Just like a compass needle points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman” Explain how the whole novel is an elaboration on Nana’s statement.
- Whose version of the difficulty of Mariam’s birth do you trust? Why?
- Describe the difference in attitude between Mullah Faizullah and Nana in regard to Mariam’s education. What does Nana suggest that Mariam must learn as a woman?
- What is Mariam’s attitude towards Jalil and his visits? How does this attitude change later in the story?
- “Mariam, when I am gone you’ll have nothing. You’ll have nothing. You ARE nothing.” Explain the significance of these words of Nana to Mariam. Does this evaluation of Mariam ever change in the novel?
- Compare Nana’s relations to Mariam with Mrs. Armstrong’s relation to Anna in the old story, “Birds in Their Nests Agree.” Are the motives of both mothers the same?
- How does Mariam behave as a guest in Jalil’s house? Why?
- “He does not approve of the taking of life, be it another’s or one’s own, for He says that life is sacred.” How do Mullah Faizullah’s words, referring to Nana’s suicide, stand up in the novel? Where are they supported?
- Describe Jalil’s reaction to Mariam’s betrothal (engagement): “Goddam it, Mariam, don’t do this to me.” Why is the turning of the key in the lock (at the end of chapter 7) significant?
- Describe Rasheed’s appearance and character. Why is her signing of the marriage document significant in the novel?
- Describe Mariam’s living arrangements in Rasheed’s house, and her feelings.
- What happens at the marketplace? Why? Explain the significance of Mariam being “lost on her own street.”
- “Where I come from, a woman’s face is her husband’s business only,” says Rasheed. How do you react to this? What is the importance of having a face, both personally and socially? What is the symbolism of someone else “owning” your face?
- How does Mariam react to wearing a burqa? What does she notice about other women on the streets of Kabul? How does she react to them?
- Describe Mariam’s reaction to Rasheed’s pornography, and her justification of it. What is the significance of the gun and the pornography juxtaposed?
- What happens to the relationship between Rasheed and Mariam after her miscarriages? Why does Rasheed insist that his child be a son?
- What is the significance of the communist coup?
- Describe the relationship between Laila’s parents, and their political affiliations. What are Babi’s ideas about education? How does he feel about the Communists? Evaluate his comments that “now is a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan,” and “the only enemy an Afghan cannot defeat is himself.” (chapter 18)
- What is the significance of the Mercedes that Laila sees outside Rasheed’s house?
- Describe briefly the ethnic contention in Afghanistan as Babi describes it.
- Why are the deaths of Noor and Ahmad significant?
- Look at chapter 20 carefully, and compare:
- a)the relationship of Nana/Mariam with Fariba/Laila, and compare
- b) Jalil with Laila’s father, Babi.
- What is the father’s purpose in taking Tariq and Laila to Bamiyan? Compare Babi’s dream with George and Lennie’s dream in ‘Of Mice & Men’.
- In chapter 20, Laila’s and Tariq’s relationship is changing. How is this shown in their reaction to the movie?
- What is the “significance of the Mujahideen ousting the communists? (Hint: the jihad is finished, and the war begins). What is a “battle royale?” How does this term characterize Kabul after 1992?
- Chapter 24: how does the fighting of the warlords (“Mujahideen”) affect the lives of Laila and Tariq? How does Mammy react? Describe Kabul post-1992.
- Chapter 26: explain the significance of Babi’s San Francisco t-shirt, and the thousand splendid suns in the poem Babi recites, (a thousand shards of glass…the sunlight catching in each”) and Laila’s prediction “We’ll come back. When the war is over.”
- Abdul Sharif’s lies about Tariq’s death are a cruel trick used by Rasheed to kill Laila’s hopes. In your opinion, is the lie also a cruel trick on the reader, so that the author can “resurrect” Tariq later in the novel?
- What reasons does Rasheed give for his “courtship” of Laila? What is Mariam’s reaction? Why? What Is Rasheed’s real purpose in marrying Laila? How is Laila benefitted?
- Chapter 31: evaluate Rasheed’s statements: nang and namoos are “the husband’s burden”; “This house is your palace” “One does not drive a Volga and a Benz in the same manner” and “Mariam will be accountable.”
- Chapter 33: Rasheed treats Laila differently as they are going out the gate from when they are coming back in. Explain the difference.
- The main characters in Never Let Me Go are donors, “subhumans” who are bred and raised for a narrow and specific purpose. In what sense are Mariam and Laila also donors?
- Describe the evolving relationship between Mariam and Laila. How does it change, and for what specific reasons?
NEVER LET ME GO: DISCUSSIONS
- Consider the effect of the first person narration. What is the effect of having a participating character narrate? How different would the story be if Tommy or Ruth narrated? Or an objective narrator?
- The story is told not as a straightforward chronological narrative, but rather as remembered clusters and sequences. Compare this with other novels you are familiar with. What’s the overall effect of one “remembered” telling the story? Compare this novel also with Remains of the Day. What are the striking similarities? Compare the narration also to that of A Thousand Splendid Suns.
- The novel makes use of several everyday words that come to have different meanings because of the innovations in the culture. Give some examples of the new uses of words and speculate why they are used. (Example: “carer”) On the other hand, certain words that are common to everyday life are never or seldom used in the novel. Give some examples.
- As the novel progresses, the reader notices that Ruth, Tommy, and Kathy have strongly delineated character traits. List the traits of each character, and speculate if/how the interaction of these types of personality traits make the novel more vivid. Do you think the author “planned” these characters as an interacting threesome, or as separate individuals who just happened to be in each others’ company?
- What is the function of Hailsham in the novel? What was the function intended by Miss Emily and Madame? How is it different from an ordinary boarding school? How do other donors regard Hailsham students?
- Evaluate Miss Lucy’s complaint that the students are “told and not told” about their futures, and compare this observation with the way the novel is written: the readers themselves are “told and not told” what the significance of the students’ lives is. Do you agree with Miss Emily’s strong feeling at the end of the novel that the students should not be told, that they should be protected from the truth in order to have “happy childhoods”?
- Explain the following motifs/symbols:
a)darkness/woods (chapter 5)
c) a job in a well-ordered office (chapter 12/19)
d) floating garbage (chapter 19/23)
e)balloons in the clown’s hand (chapter 18)
f) the stranded fishing boat (chapter 19)
g) the diving platform overlooking the cemented swimming pool at Kingsfield(chapter 19)
h) the title
- How does the theme of “carpe diem” unfold in the novel?
- Explain Kathy’s and Madame’s different interpretation of Kathy’s embracing a pillow while dancing to the song “Never Let Me Go.” What is Madame’s general attitude towards the students? Do we ever have indications of how “outsiders” feel about the students?
- The novel implies that the general society considers “students” to be either subhuman or non-human. Think carefully. In what ways are the “students” not standard human beings, and, think even more carefully, what makes them human? Do you consider them human? Explain.
- Many situations and events in the novel closely parallel situations and events in non-fictional life. Do you think Ishiguro is using a fictional format to comment on or highlight values, attitudes and practices in the “real” world that “we” live in? (example: there are centers where the wealthy sick person can buy a kidney which was “bought” from an impoverished “donor” for a certain sum of money)
- One critic has commented that the novel is not so much about cloning as it is about three interlocked individuals stranded on a slowly dissolving desert island. How does this explain the emotional force of the novel?
- One could say that A Thousand Splendid Suns has a kind of cinematic style, in which the narrator has “witnessed” the events in her mind, and recorded them in a camera-style and projected them onto the screens of our minds, using words instead of light images. The chronology a simple, linear scheme in which the reader is always asking, “what will happen next?” and is then told, quite simply, what happens next.
a) How would you compare the narrative style of Never Let Me Go to the style described above? What different strategies and reading competences are required for the two different novels?
b) Can you evaluate the styles without taking into consideration the aims of the writers?