Reading guide for The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela

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The Kindness of Enemies

by Leila Aboulela

The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela X
The Kindness of Enemies by Leila Aboulela
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2017, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Discuss the relevance of the title, The Kindness of Enemies.
  2. On page 45, Oz answers Natasha's question "Do you find yourself easily changing?" saying "It is not others that are the problem. Their thoughts become my thoughts." Examine what this admission reveals about his actions throughout the novel. Why do you think he feels this way?
  3. What do you think the author is trying to say about religious identity and belonging?
  4. "To get what you love, you must first be patient with what you hate" (pg. 66). Discuss what you think this means and how it relates to the characters and the story. How does this apply to your life?
  5. How does the author use dreams to discuss duality? What deeper meaning do the dreams represent for Natasha?
  6. How does the author comment on being a Muslim in a post-9/11 world? What are the parallels between 19th century and 21st century Muslims found in the book? How does the novel challenge reader's perception of the meaning of jihad? Did reading the novel affect your understanding of the Muslim lifestyle? Explain your answer.
  7. At one point Natasha ponders "Does the student seek the teacher or the other way around?" What do you think she means by this? Find examples throughout the novel of character's seeking guidance.
  8. What do the contents of David's letter to Anna reveal about his character and his marriage? Discuss how the letter affects Anna's faith in him and his handling of their abduction. In the long-term, how does the kidnapping change their relationship?
  9. What does Shamil's admission that he would not mind living the rest of his life in a "state of war" tell us about him? How does losing his eldest son Jamaleldin and then the Caucasian War change him? Are the changes positive? Explain your answer.
  10. On page 74, Natasha says about herself "I was and had always been a coward." How do you feel about this interpretation of her? Were you surprised by this admission and do you agree with her? Has there ever been a time in your life that you felt you were a coward? Explain your answers.
  11. Was Oz unfairly targeted for sympathizing with Islam or was he just expressing curiosity and pride in being a descendant of Imam Shamil? Explain your answer. What do you think of Oz's decision to leave university and move to Cardiff? How would you have handled the situation if you were Oz?
  12. Discuss the significance of Sheik Jamal el-din. What is his role in the story?
  13. Discuss the author's decision to tell the story from a dual timeline. Was this an effective way to tell the story? Did it help you to feel closer to the characters? Why or why not?
  14. What affect does Anna's arrival have on Shamil and his household? Compare and contrast her relationship with Zeidat, Chuanat, and Ameena. Discuss the role family plays in the novel. How is family defined, and what is its significance?
  15. What does Natasha discover about herself when she returns to the Sudan for her father's funeral? What is her greatest challenge there? How are her memories transformed by her visit? Does she come to regret the shame she felt toward her father and his religion? Explain your answer.
  16. Imam Shamil is a real historical figure who fought in the Caucasian War. Does knowing this affect the way you read the novel? What are some of the pleasures and drawbacks of reading historical novels?
  17. The novel opens with a quote from Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse: " . . . we have to grope our way through so much filth and rubbish in order to reach home! And we have no one to show us the way. Homesickness is our only guide." How is this sentiment explored throughout the novel? Discuss how each character defines home. Is home always an actual place or can it also be spiritual? Why or why not? How does the loss of Jamaleldin's homeland change him? Discuss the similarities between Natasha and Jamaleldin. Both are displaced and in search of a place to belong, do either of them find that in the end? Explain your answer.

Suggestions for Further Reading:
Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
A Curse on Dostoevsky by Atiq Rahimi, Polly McLean (Translator)
In the Land of Armadillos: Stories by Helen Maryles Shankman
The Alaskan Laundry by Brendan Jones
Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy
Hunters in the Dark: A Novel by Lawrence Osborne
Youngblood: A Novel by Matt Gallagher



Reading group guide by Keturah Jenkins

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Grove Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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