This reading group guide for Live from Cairo includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.IntroductionLive from Cairo
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is the exuberant, dazzling story of Dalia, a strong-willed Iraqi refugee who finds herself trapped in Egypt after her petition to resettle in America with her husband, Omran, is denied; Charlie, her foolhardy attorney, whose frustration with the legal bureaucracy and complicated feelings for Dalia lead him to forge a not entirely legal plan to get her out; Aos, Charlie’s fastidious translator and only friend, who spends his days trying to help people through the system and his nights protesting in Tahrir Square; and Hana, a young and disenchanted Iraqi-American resettlement officer. When Hana is assigned to Dalia’s case, she must decide whether to treat her plight as merely one more piece of paperwork or as a full-blooded human crisis. As these individuals come together, a plot is formed to help Dalia. But soon laws are broken, friendships and marriages are tested, and lives are risked—all in an effort to protect one person from the dangerous sweep of an unjust world.Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. One of the first things we learn about Hana is that her father died in a 1980 bombing in Iraq, forcing her pregnant mother to flee to America. Why do you think readers are given this information so early on? How important is Hana’s family history? How would the story be different without Hana’s past?
2. During her interview at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Hana responds to Dalia’s initial statement by saying “That’s what happened to your country. I’m asking what happened to you” (page 20). In what way are characters defined by their countries? How is identity embedded in location and nationality?
3. What was your reaction to Dalia’s testimony (pages 59–67)? How did you feel when Charlie responded by saying “please tell me there’s more?”
4. What role does shame play in the novel? How are the characters differently influenced by shame? What about guilt?
5. How does Mustafa, Hana’s cab driver, enrich your understanding of life in Cairo? What do we learn from him that we don’t from other characters?
6. During a phone call with her mother, Hana asks if “a lifetime of forced isolation and poverty” is “really less dramatic than death” (page 78). How would you respond? Hana also wonders whether she has a right to her mother’s narrative. What does she mean?
7. After receiving the rejection notice for Dalia’s petition, Charlie tells her husband, Omran, not to come back to Egypt. He is worried that Omran and Dalia would “discover that love wasn’t something they could eat or live inside” (page 101). Where, then, do you think love should rank on a list of priorities?
8. Faisal and his son spoke only Arabic to each other, and it made strangers so nervous they would often say, “We speak English in this country” (page 119). How did these statements impact Faisal and his son? Discuss the power of this sentiment and its presence in the United States.
9. On page 128, Charlie says “Subversion is the only way to even the odds when you have no money and no power.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
10. Is it ethical for Charlie to make Hana feel responsible for the death of a young man in order to convince her to provide an illegal yellow card? To what lengths would you go to protect the people you love?
11. How does this book portray insiders versus outsiders?
12. On pages 155–56, Hana reflects on a sentence by her favorite Egyptian writer: “In the passionate dark of dawn, on the path between death and life, within view of the watchful stars and within earshot of the beautiful, obscure anthems, a voice told of the trials and joys promised to our alley.” Why do you think this passage resonates with her so much?
13. Discuss what you would have done in Charlie’s, Dalia’s, Omran’s, and Hana’s positions. What would you have done differently? How difficult would your decisions be?Enhance Your Book Club
1. As mentioned in the novel, Naguib Mahfouz is a renowned Egyptian writer. Expand your knowledge of Egyptian literature by reading some of his work.
2. Live from Cairo
is set in Cairo during the turbulent aftermath of the January 25 Revolution. Research the recent events in Egypt and the ousting of President Mubarak. How does the political landscape as described in news compare to that of the novel?
3. Research traditional Egyptian recipes and have members of your book club bring different dishes for everyone to try.