I recently received an email via the website asking for book discussion questions for “Little Women of Baghlan” It is gratifying to know the book has been chosen for at least one book club! So in response, here are a few beginning discussion points. If you have something you would like to add to the conversation, you can contact Susan Fox via the website, or post in the comments.
LITTLE WOMEN OF BAGHLAN
1. The American Volunteers did not have cell phones or access to the internet. Do you think this fact shaped their experiences? How would it have been different if they had email and cell phone contact?
2. How do you think you would have handled training, especially Farsi immersion? Are you an auditory or visual learner?
3. Afghanistan is considered to be a communal society, where families live together, and do things cooperatively—as a community. Society in the United States, on the other hand, values ”rugged individualism,” or “going it alone,” to achieve success. How do you identify with each of these cultures? How do you reconcile the rights of the individual with the common good of any community?
4. When Jo is on the bus to Herat, the driver stops at a tea house. The women wait in a hot, stifling bus while the men have their tea and food. The female Volunteers eventually join the men. What would you have done in Jo’s place?
5. What is the significance of Mr. Hyatullah bringing the women a Christmas tree?
6. Has your impression of the Afghan people changed after reading “Little Women of Baghlan?” In what way?
7. What was your reaction to the parties the Volunteers attended? Do you approve or disapprove of them?
8. Mr. Arsala, the landlord, was helpful to the Volunteers, and at the same time, he was blatantly domineering in regard to his wives. How would you sum up his character?
9. Was there anything about Islam that surprised you?
10. Jo, Nan, and Mary had three distinctly different personalities. Do you think their temperaments complimented each other? How do you think this helped them cope with the hardships of their assignment? Which of the three women reminds you most of yourself?
11. Who do you think learned the most—the Afghan students or the American Volunteers?
12. Who do you think learned the most—the Afghan students or the American Volunteers?
13. Mary reveals a bit of her personality when the Volunteers go for a camel ride, and the camel owner tries to charge them for six camels. What did you think when she handed over a wad of Afs and ran to the taxi with the younger Volunteers?
14. Do you think the Peace Corps is relevant today? How has it changed?
15. When working in foreign countries, how important is it to speak the language? Americans often expect “instant results.” Does this help or hinder workers in foreign countries?
16. What was your reaction to Jo’s relationship with the airman from Peshawar?
17. When the Taliban took over in 2001, the issue of women’s rights went from bad to worse. It is now 2014. If the Taliban attempt to regain power, do you think the women will react differently, especially with access to the internet, cell phone use, and the organization of Afghan women’s groups, such as “Women for Afghan Women.” (www.womenforafghanwomen.org)
18. Jo is independent, headstrong, and sometimes just plain “stubborn.” How does she come to accept help from her friends?
19. Young Afghan girls are frequently depicted as yearning for an education, and serious about their studies. Although this is often true, Jo’s girls were ambivalent about spending their days in a classroom. Why do you think they had this attitude?
20. At the 2014 NATO Shadow Summit in Chicago, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that “Women’s rights and women being on various groups is the best way to ensure a better life for everybody, not just for women, but for everybody.” What do you think she meant by this statement?
21. Jo often put news events from VOA and the United States among her diary entries. Did you like to hear about them? Why or why not?