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The Storm

Reading Group Guide

    This reading group guide for The Storm 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

    From an immensely talented new voice in international fiction, a sweeping tour de force that seamlessly interweaves five love stories that, together, chronicle sixty years of Bangladeshi history.

    Shahryar, a recent PhD graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the US when his visa expires. In their last remaining weeks together, we learn Shahryar’s history, in a village on the Bay of Bengal, where a poor fisherman and his wife are preparing to face a storm of historic proportions. That story intersects with those of a Japanese pilot, a British doctor stationed in Burma during World War II, and a privileged couple in Calcutta who leave everything behind to move to East Pakistan following the Partition of India. Inspired by the 1970 Bhola cyclone, in which half a million people perished overnight, the structure of this riveting novel mimics the storm itself. Building to a series of revelatory and moving climaxes, it shows the many ways in which families love, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another.

    At once grounded in history and fantastically imaginative, The Storm explores the humanity that connects us beyond the surface differences of race, religion, and nationality. It is an epic novel in the tradition of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, by a singularly gifted and perceptive new writer.

    Topics & Questions for Discussion

    1. Why does Honufa pray to Kali? What does Kali represent?

    2. How would you describe Shar and Anna’s relationship? Shar and Val’s?

    3. Describe Honufa and Jamir’s reactions to the hidden letter and how they might differ. What do their reactions say about their characters?

    4. Theodore Drake asks Rahim on page 38, “If your country is to be divided along the lines of religion—as it seems likely—will you stay here, or move to East Bengal?” How does Rahim respond and why?

    5. Examine the moment Shar picks up Anna from her school. How does Shar see himself? What does the scene say about him in relation to other parents?

    6. How would you describe Claire’s status? How is she treated and how does she treat the people around her? Did her behavior surprise you at all?

    7. What defines Tadashi and Ichiro’s friendship? How is this made clear?

    8. “We are in the land of gods and monsters” (page 107). What did Ichiro mean by that?

    9. How does the monk challenge Ichiro? What is Ichiro’s rebuttal?

    10. Describe Shar and Val’s relationship in the past. What moments made their relationship work—and what moments broke it?

    11. Claire says to Ichiro, “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world” (page 180). What does she mean by this, and why does she say it?

    12. Ichiro mentions the concept of gyokusai to Claire on page 198. What does the word mean and how does Ichiro relate to it? How does Claire interpret the same concept?

    13. On the boat, Jamir tells his father’s story. How does he describe his life up until then? What led him to become a fisherman? How does the boatman, who was mentioned in the beginning of the novel, tie into his life?

    14. As the storm approaches, Honufa thinks about the role literacy played in her life. She wishes she could “unlearn the letters and numbers [Rahim] had taught her” (page 279). Why might she think this? Do you think this would have changed anything about the trajectory of her life?

    15. How does Shar’s story come full circle in the end?

    Enhance Your Book Club

    1. Throughout the novel, the characters often recall a story that was told to them—like Honufa, with her father’s tale about Kali—or they tell a story to another character, as Shar does with Anna. What purpose does storytelling serve in this novel? Why is it important that we keep telling stories? Is there a story that has made an impact on your life?

    2. As an immigrant, Shar must overcome multiple hurdles as he tries to stay in America to be with his daughter. We also learn about Caterina’s obstacles. Has this novel affected your view of immigration in the United States? Why or why not?

    3. Claire calls her act on page 204 “a penance.” How does each character show public penance for their behavior in this novel?

    4. To learn more about the Partition, read this article. To learn more about the 1970 Bhola cyclone, watch this YouTube video.

About the Author

Arif Anwar
Photography by Michael Tan

Arif Anwar

Arif Anwar was born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, just miles from the Bay of Bengal. He has previously worked for BRAC, one of the world’s largest nongovernmental organizations, on issues of poverty alleviation, and for UNICEF Myanmar on public health issues. Arif has a PhD in education from the University of Toronto. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his wife Si (Sandra) Lian. The Storm is his first novel.

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