A House Without Windows: Reading Guide

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A House Without Windows
By Nadia Hashimi

Introduction

A vivid, spellbinding story of murder, survival, sisterhood, and a mother’s love that illuminates the plight of women in a traditional culture from the author of the bestseller The Pearl That Broke Its Shell.

For most of her life Zeba has lived quietly in an Afghan village, a loyal wife and loving mother. But on one horrific day, her family’s world is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Covered in Kamal’s blood and catatonic with shock, Zeba refuses to explain what happened. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, she is sent to Kabul’s Chil Mahtab, a women’s prison.

As Zeba awaits trial, she befriends other women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an honor killing; Latifa, a runaway who stays in the jail because it is a safe haven; and Mezhgan, pregnant and unmarried, jailed for zina, or “love crimes.” The women whisper among themselves: Is Zeba really a cold-blooded killer? Has she truly inherited her mother’s powers of jadu—witchcraft—which can bend fate to her will? Can she save herself? Or them?

Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer, whose desire to help his homeland has brought him back. With the fate of this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.

A moving and often surprising look at the lives of modern Afghan women, A House Without Windows is astonishing, unforgettable, and triumphant

Questions for Discussion

1. At the very start of the novel, who do you think killed Kamal? What was the motive for his murder?

2. “Dignity is not in what work you do. It’s in how you do that work.” Yusuf’s father tells his family when he takes a job doing manual labor in Pakistan after the family is forced to flee Afghanistan. What other characters in this book live up to that belief? Are there any who do not bring dignity to their work?

3. When we meet Latifa in prison, we learn that “Latifa had no interest in leaving Chil Mahtab, a place where she was treated better than she’d ever been treated in her life.” What about Chil Mahtab makes it seem preferable to the outside world to some of the prisoners we meet?

4. When Zeba remembers her life with Kamal, she she says to her mother “I should have turned to you. Maybe things would have worked out differently, then. I thought what you did, all those things you did for so many years, thought it was so dark and evil but I know now what evil really is.” What might Gulnaz have been able to do for Zeba? What help, besides jadu, could her mother have given her?

5. Why do the villagers go to Hakimi with made-up stories about Zeba and Kamal? Why does Timur tell the story about Kamal burning a page of the Qur’an? Why do they choose to report those stories instead of the truth?

6. Gulnaz thinks that “Tamina’s house was a safe place for her grandchildren. Tamina would let nothing happen to the children.” Why is Tamina a good protector for her brother’s children?

7. What do you make of Zeba’s reunion with her father? When Zeba contemplates his abandonment of her family and his starting a new one she reflects that “…it made sense to her, too, because she was not completely unlike this man. She too had turned her back on Gulnaz.” Do you believe that? How are father and daughter alike or different in their actions?

8. When Zeba returns to Chil Mahtab and inmates begin to tell her the good fortune that they’ve suddenly been blessed with, “Zeba was stunned. She remembered the day these prisoners had laid their problems at her feet. She’d had no answers for them….She wasn’t responsible for any of this—was she?” What do you think?

9. Zeba ultimately goes free because of Qazi Najeeb’s somewhat creative approach to sentencing her, which relies on his acceptance of both truth and lies. In the end, is justice served?

10. What do you think happens to the characters in this book in the years after this story ends? What will become of Zeba and her family, and her village?

Top 10 Books to Re-read this Summer

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For those of us who are technically full grown adults now (maaaaan), every summer we still look back fondly on our summer reading lists of yore. From being assigned the classics to being able to pick a couple of new titles off a list (and feeling like you have all the power) to doing your own thing and reading whatever you wanted, summers recall books in hand. If you’re feeling nostalgic, here are the top 10 titles you should re-read (or read for the first time, that’s okay!) this summer.

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

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Now a major motion picture – in fact the fifth adaptation – Ben-Hur is a classic from 1880, considered the most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century. It features Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, who has been falsely accused of assassinating a Roman governor, thus sentenced to life as a slave. But when he saves a captain’s life, he becomes determined to seek his revenge against those who brought him misfortune.

Agatha Christie’s The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

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Before you crack into this year’s Closed Casket, rewind a bit to The Monogram Murders, which stars Agatha Christie’s beloved character Hercule Poirot. A young woman confides to him that she is about to be murdered, and soon he finds out about three others have been murdered. Poirot must put the pieces together before someone else is in danger.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

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Read the book before you see the movie! In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Billy finds himself suddenly as a sought-after hero, after his squad was filmed in intense warfare with Iraqi insurgents. The book takes place in one day – Thanksgiving, when Billy’s group are honoured guests of a Dallas football game, and are slated to be part of the halftime show.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Do I have to say much about this and why you should read it again? Because it’s a great classic, especially on high school reading lists, and the message of the story is still so relevant today. Get reacquainted with Scout, Atticus, Jem and Boo!

Room by Emma Donoghue

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It’s been almost a year since the film adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room hit the Toronto International Film Festival to great acclaim, and Emma is about to release her new book, The Wonder, which is bound to make big waves itself. Emma’s books aren’t exactly happy ones, let’s be honest, so if you feel like shedding a good tear but still enjoying a good book, revisiting the story Jack and Ma will hit you in the right places.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

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If you live somewhere like Toronto, where it’s felt swampy hot for weeks, you’ll feel right at home in The Jungle Book! You’ll also get even more enjoyment out of this classic if you read the new deluxe illustrated collectible edition, which has 3D interactive elements by the award-winning design studio behind the graphics for the Harry Potter film franchise and the illustrated classic Peter Pan. Take your inner child on vacation!

The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

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Even though Nadia has a new book out, A House Without Windows, that does not mean you shouldn’t want to dive back into her powerful first novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. Especially since her next book (out like, next month!) is a middle grade novel called One Half From the East, which actually runs so similar in theme – the Afghan tradition of bacha posh, dressing young girls as boys in order to enter society – that it shares a character with the first novel, so you’ll want to check back in with them from the beginning!

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

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People are obsessed with finding happiness. Though we each have our own methods and reasons, for some people like Gretchen Rubin, they need to try things out to see if it makes a difference. In Gretchen’s widely popular memoir, The Happiness Project, she sets out with all kinds of resolutions, which are relatalbe, inspiring and sharp – all the things that can get you feeling motivated even if you’ve read it before.

The Princess Diaries

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Can you believe it’s been sixteen years since The Princess Diaries came out? Doesn’t that make you feel old? If you want to feel young again, you could just re-read it! (And then watch the movie again because that too is perfect.) Mia Thermopolis is such an endearing YA character that you’ll find yourself giggling at her awkwardness all over again.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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There are plenty of reasons to dive back into Veronica Roth’s dystopian world – like being excited for the future screen interpretation of the end of the series or the upcoming release of her new book, Carve the Mark! If Divergent solidified or just added on to your love of YA then clearly it’s going to be on your re-read list and maybe now is the perfect time!

What are you re-reading this summer? What books did you enjoy reading during the summers of your grade school years?

Jessica

Follow me on Twitter @papertraildiary

August 15-19: #50BookPledge Round-Up

Hi Savvy Readers!

In case you missed it last week, we’ve introduced a new feature over here at The Savvy Reader. Each Saturday, we’ll be rounding up all of the exciting things going on with the 50 Book Pledge and the Savvy Reader blog. We’ll also give you a sneak peek at what you can look forward to in the future weeks, and potentially hint at any upcoming giveaways… Keep reading.

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The 50 Book Pledge

Keeping it steady, Savvy Readers! Last week, we were at 59% of reaching our community goal (of reading 150,000 books). This week, we’ve already pushed through another 2%, standing at 61% of our goal!

Last week, we had also read 89,795 books so far this year. In just one week, we’ve collectively read 2,560 books! That’s HUGE you guys! You Savvy Readers really are savvy, aren’t ya?

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We also are sitting at a total of 4,984 pledges. Do you think we can make it to 5,000 pledges before 2016 comes to an end?!

What’s New?

If you missed this update last week, we’re on Reco, and you should be too.

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This Week’s Featured Read

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I had the pleasure of reading (and reviewing!) this week’s Feature Read, Family Tree by bestselling author Susan Wiggs. Here’s what my fellow readers and I thought:

“Wiggs writes a fast-paced novel that will keep you intrigued.” – The Savvy Reader

“Fans of the author should be very pleased with it, and anyone who has ever had any curiosity about maple syrup will absolutely love it.” – Paper or Kindle via Amazon.com

“I have enjoyed many of Susan Wiggs’ offerings in the past and “Family Tree” is no exception. Her writing style is clear, her characters are relatable, and her storylines are realistic – full of rich emotional content without being melodramatic.” – Lizz A. Belle via Amazon.com

“I read this yesterday in one gloriously delicious reading binge – which seems totally appropriate considering the amount of absolutely yummy cooking that occurs within the pages this book. I couldn’t put this one down because the story is excellent.” – Marlene via Reading Reality

This Week on the Savvy Reader

We had tons of great stuff on the Savvy Reader this week, from our exciting Featured Read to Nadia Hashimi quotes and an amazing Perfect Pairings post! I know that’s a lot to handle for a Saturday morning, so luckily I’m here to sum it all up for you in just a few short sentences.

Tuesday August 16 – Top 10 Quotes from Nadia Hashimi

It was a pretty difficult task, but Kate summed up her ten favourite Nadia Hashimi quotes in light of her new book, A House Without Windows, going on sale. Example: “The human spirit, you know what they say about the human spirit? It is harder than a rock and more delicate than a flower petal.” ―The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. Read more

Wednesday August 17 – Savvy Savings

Great books, great deals. This week our Savvy Savings included an Adriana Trigiani novel, The Teacher and The Opposite of Everyone (gorgeous cover!). Buy any (or all) of them for your eReader for just $1.99 each! More details here.

Thursday August 18 – Perfect Pairings: Books and Songs

A long overdue Perfect Pairings post was brought to us by Jessica, our in-house music expert. If you like listening to music while reading, or if you just like to make playlists that fit the tone of the book you’re reading, check out this great post that pairs books with songs.

Friday August 19 – Bookmarks

Our favourite day of the week got even better with all of the great bookish news Karen shared with us on Bookmarks! Not only is there a great trailer for Hidden Figures (!!), but there’s also a new Kobo AND the Codex Silenda (if you don’t know what this is, you need to check this out). So seriously, read up on this week’s bookish news here.

Rewards & Contests

Although we don’t have any contests in the running this week, our friends at HarperCollins Canada sure do! You can enter to be part of their exclusive program, HCC First Look, by clicking this link, which means you get to read a special advanced reading copy of a great new book, The Wangs vs. the World. Follow the instructions here and enter to win!

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Stay Tuned

Next week, we’ll be featuring Nadia Hashimi’s latest novel, books that you must reread before summer is over, and a very, very, very fun preview that will also introduce something (cough, a giveaway, cough) that I know you will ALL be excited about!! Stay tuned, Savvy Readers!

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What was your favourite post of the week? Tell me @SavvyReader or in the comments below!

Happy Reading,

Ashley

Follow me on twitter @SavvyReader and @ashleyposluns.