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Table of Contents
About The Book
Shahryar, a recent PhD graduate and father of nine-year-old Anna, must leave the United States 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 leaves 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 “moves us deftly through time and across borders, beautifully illustrating the strange intersections we call fate, and reminding us how the past shapes the present” (Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty). Exploring the humanity that connects us beyond the surface differences of race, religion, and nationality, “this powerful and important debut is a story for our time” (Library Journal, starred review).
Reading Group Guide
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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.
- Publisher: Washington Square Press (July 27, 2021)
- Length: 320 pages
- ISBN13: 9781501174513
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Raves and Reviews
“Complex, elegantly composed, and page-turning at once, The Storm is a novel both grand and intimate in its scope. Arif Anwar’s ability to inhabit a variety of characters across countries and time is nothing short of astounding. I adored this book.”
– Armando Lucas Correa, author of The Daughter's Tale and The German Girl
“Arif Anwar’s masterful storytelling crosses continents and generations, illuminating how personal choices can have sweeping repercussions. The Storm is an elegant, stunning novel that captured my imagination and my heart until the end.”
– Shilpi Somaya Gowda, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son
“This book is a marvel, combining the sweep of a saga with the precision of a page-turner. Arif Anwar moves us deftly through time and across borders, beautifully illustrating the strange intersections we call fate, and reminding us how the past shapes the present.”
– Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind
“Arif Anwar’s The Storm is a brilliantly textured tapestry exploring the natural and man-made disasters that define a human story. And like a true storm, it is by turns devastating, humbling and cathartic.”
– Nadia Hashimi, author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
“This riveting novel weaves the interlocking tales of compelling characters finding their way through turbulent times, crisscrossing nations and continents, finding redemption in the gift of love and the magical power of words. The Storm is lyrical, lovely and captivating.”
– Mary Janigan, author of Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark
“Lovers whisper, immigration papers rustle, gunfire explodes as this novel sweeps backwards and forwards across continents and decades….The interconnected stories come alive with sensual detail….This is Bangladeshi history—all our history—as we enter a new world—our world—through the absorbing stories of The Storm.”
– Kim Echlin, author of Under the Visible Life
“In crystalline prose, Anwar tells stories that span continents and decades as his characters interconnect . . . . While deceit and cruelty occur, these stories are suffused with love and compassion that most often motivate action. A remarkable debut, in which fiction vividly portrays specific events in history.”
– Booklist, starred review
“Anwar drills down to an almost microscopic viewpoint to explore Bangladesh’s struggle for independence through intimate, interconnected stories that span 60 years . . . . The Storm ends up as a richly realized, instructive tale about what to do with people set adrift by major disturbances, and about filtering broad strokes of storm data to study individual people who follow some rules and break others to find security and do what they think is right.”
– Associated Press
“In his debut novel, Arif Anwar gathers stories in the manner that wind and waves build in a massive storm . . . . With the ethos of A Long Way Home (upon which the movie Lion is based) and the epic quality of The Kite Runner, The Storm provokes and inspires . . . . Laced with symbols and mysterious mementos—like a sash left by a Japanese soldier that is later discovered by a studious Hindu girl, and a fishing boat painted with eyes—chapters swell to suspenseful endings that dovetail with each other . . . . From visa troubles and Hindu-Muslim relations to child custody and starvation, Anwar tackles the gamut of modern challenges with style and care.”
"Arif Anwar’s first novel, The Storm, is a fascinating, ambitious work, stretching across decades and countries and capturing troubled moments in each....Anwar has challenged himself by weaving together, in a definite narrative design, characters from these countries who come from very diverse backgrounds....Much of the charm and power of The Storm lies in negotiating this push and pull between the hero and the trickster, the magical and the mundane — and Anwar has handled it beautifully."
– Chitra Divakaruni, New York Times Book Review
“A welcome addition to the fledgling collection of post-colonial literature by Bangladeshi authors….Anwar takes it further, much further, by creating an impressive cast of characters with lives and fortunes that intersect in unexpected ways with Bangladesh's history. From Washington, D.C., to Calcutta to Chittagong and Burma, Anwar journeys through time to unfurl the full breath and strength of the storm that is the literal and figurative center of his ambitious debut novel….A panoramic, multigenerational saga set against the backdrop of Bangladesh's violent birth as an independent nation.”
– Shelf Awareness
“Anwar’s excellent debut braids together brief moments of sacrifice and love in the lives of many characters across decades in South Asia and Washington D.C . . . . This first novel will touch and astound readers.”
– Publishers Weekly
Resources and Downloads
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- Book Cover Image (jpg): The Storm Trade Paperback 9781501174513
- Author Photo (jpg): Arif Anwar Photography by Michael Tan(0.1 MB)
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