Reading guide for The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

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The Map of Salt and Stars

by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar X
The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Renner

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. What can you surmise from the novel about Baba's connection to each of his daughters and how the girls come to depend on those bonds after the bombing in Syria?
  2. How do the two different timelines influence the plot? Was this an effective way to tell the story? What demands does it place upon you, and what are its pleasures? Did it help you to feel closer to the characters? Why or why not?
  3. What effect does Baba's death have on Noor's mother and her relationship with her daughters?
  4. What affect does Abu Sayeed's arrival have on Nour and her family? Compare and contrast Abu Sayeed's relationship with Mama, Zahra, and Nour. Discuss the role of family and community in the lives of the characters. Provide examples of the different ways the author defines family in the novel.
  5. How is The Map of Salt and Stars like others novels you have read about refugees, and how is it different? How much did you know about the Syrian refuge crisis before reading the novel? How does the novel challenge your perception of the Syrian refugee crisis?
  6. How do the characters rely on their religion throughout the novel?
  7. What meaning does the title of the novel hold for the characters? Why do you think the author chose this and what does it mean to you?
  8. Child narrators in adult fiction are often used to question things that adults might take for granted. Did having Nour as the narrator for The Map of Salt and Stars change the way you viewed the events of the novel? Compare and contrast the benefits and disadvantages of having a young narrator.
  9. Evaluate the importance of the constellations and how the stars help to advance the story in both timelines. Discuss the symbolism of birds.
  10. What is the significance of the stone and why does Nour discard it?
  11. Khaldun says, "the words of others can overwhelm and drown out your own. So, you see, you must keep careful track of the borders of your stories, where your voice ends and another's begins" (page 133). Discuss the power of stories and the importance of the stories to the characters. Provide examples of the characters protecting their voices. How do you stay true to yourself?
  12. Nour says to Yusuf, "I thought you were like the other bad men" (page 223). Discuss the significance of Yusuf. Where you expecting a different outcome for his character? Explain your answers.
  13. How do the characters react to the trauma of sexual violence? What are its lasting effects? Analyze the reasons why Nour tells Yusuf and no one else about Huda's attack, and why Huda chooses not to choose to disclose the attack immediately. What was your reaction to that scene?
  14. Huda, Zahra, and Nour are very different? What makes them alike as sisters, and what sets them apart? How do they evolve over the course of the novel?
  15. Compare and contrast the storylines of Rawiya and Nour. Discuss how Nour's superpower and Rawiya's being the roc slayer helped to save their families.
  16. What is al-Idrisi's role in the story? Does knowing that this character is based on a real person affect the way you read the novel? What are some of the pleasures and drawbacks of reading historical novels? Discuss what might have happened to the planisphere "guarded forever, safe from selfish hands" (page 307).

Enhance Your Book Club

  1. Are you a synesthete? Go to this website https://www.synesthesiatest.org/ to find out.
  2. Create a map depicting places you traveled that had a major impact on your life when you were Nour's age. What did you learn from that time? How did you change after that experience?
  3. Name your top five favorite books with a child narrator. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a young narrator?
  4. The Map of Salt and Stars for the most part is a very realistic coming-of-age story of a Syrian refugee, but there are several instances when the story reveals magical elements. Provide examples from the novel of magical realism. How do these moments enhance the plot?
  5. Visit the author's website (http://www.jenniferjoukhadar.com/books/) to learn more and to read her collection of short stories and essays.
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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Touchstone. 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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