This reading group guide for Silent Hearts 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.Introduction
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For fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns
comes a stirring novel set in Afghanistan about two women—an American aid worker and her local interpreter—who form an unexpected friendship despite their utterly different life experiences and the ever-increasing violence that surrounds them in Kabul.
In 2001, Kabul is suddenly a place of possibility as people fling off years of repressive Taliban rule. This hopeful chaos brings together American aid worker Liv Stoellner and Farida Basra, an educated Pakistani woman still adjusting to her arranged marriage to Gul, the son of an Afghan strongman whose family spent years of exile in Pakistan before returning to Kabul.
Both Liv and her husband take positions at an NGO that helps Afghan women recover from the Taliban years. They see the move as a reboot—Martin for his moribund academic career, Liv for their marriage. But for Farida and Gul, the move to Kabul is fraught, severing all ties with Farida’s family and her former world, and forcing Gul to confront a chapter in his life he’d desperately tried to erase.
The two women, brought together by Farida’s work as an interpreter, form a nascent friendship based on their growing mutual love for Afghanistan, though Liv remains unaware that Farida is reporting information about the Americans’ activities to Gul’s family, who have ties to the black market.
As the bond between Farida and Liv deepens, war-scarred Kabul acts in different ways upon them, as well as their husbands. Silent Hearts
is an absorbing, complex portrayal of two very different but equally resilient women caught in the conflict of a war that will test them in ways they never imagined.Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss Farida’s and Gul’s different upbringings. Why do Farida and Gul oppose marriage to each other? Why can’t they refuse?
2. What’s the state of Liv and Martin’s marriage when we first meet them? What once brought them together, and what threatens to push them apart?
3. The novel depicts the moment the characters learn about the September 11 attacks. How does this event impact Farida and Gul’s lives? Liv and Martin’s lives?
4. What happens during the covert trip from Peshawar to Jalalabad that makes Gul and, to some extent, his mother see and treat Farida differently? What does the scene tell you about Farida’s character?
5. Gul recalls the last time he and his family were in Kabul. What do you learn from this backstory? How does this inform your understanding of his character?
6. “Children ran about, anchoring crude kites that dipped and swirled in a sky hazy with woodsmoke” (page 148). What does Liv presume to see, and how does Mrs. Khan change her perspective? How did you feel as you read this scene?
7. Why does Martin withhold the letter from Mrs. Khan? Are you surprised by this action, given what you know of Martin’s character?
8. When Liv visits an Afghani wife with Farida on page 184, how does she inadvertently offend the woman? What other events show that Liv is out of place in Kabul?
9. What does Nur Muhammed plan to do to address the increased presence of America in Afghanistan? How might his previous experience with the Russians have influenced his plan?
10. What does Liv discover when she meets the Australian reporter at the Face the Future function? How does she react? What is the list that she makes (page 237)?
11. Discuss the market scene on page 259. In what ways does it impact Liv and Martin’s relationship? How did you feel about their reactions?
12. After Liv and Hamidullah come across Farida and Martin, what decision does Farida make? Why?
13. How does Gul feel when he learns about Farida’s alleged infidelity? How does Farida convince Gul that she has always been faithful?
14. What is the meaning of the name Arsalan? Why did Farida choose that name?
15. What do you imagine happens to Farida after the novel closes? And to Liv?Enhance Your Book Club
1. The night before Farida leaves for her new life with Gul, her sister, Alia, gives her one last piece of advice. Do you agree with the advice? Discuss the thematic significance of the advice throughout the book.
2. Reflect on a friendship—your own or that of someone close to you—that had formed regardless of different backgrounds.
3. Read novels that focus on women caught in times of war, like A Thousand Splendid Suns
and A House Without Windows.
Discuss how the authors portray the female characters and the roles they play within the story.
4. The novel raises questions about the complex nature of events that happened after 9/11. How does the author explore different sides and perspectives in this time in history?