- Las Positas College
- LPC Literary Arts Festival
- Pre- and Post-Reading Questions
LPC Literary Arts Festival
West of Kabul, East of New York
Pre- and Post-Reading Questions
Write a one-paragraph answer to each question, providing details and or stories where appropriate.
The pre-reading questions are designed to help you connect your own life to the content of the book. Give yourself time to think about them; don’t give up just because something doesn’t come to you right away. It may help to discuss the pre-reading questions in small groups. On the other hand, if you feel like the information is too personal, you can share a different example, or choose to keep the answer just between yourself and the instructor.
The post-reading questions are designed to make sure you are reading and understanding the text. Be sure to provide enough detail that it’s clear you understood the information in the chapter.
Be sure to attend the SP '22 LPC Literary Arts Festival for which Tamim Ansary will be the keynote speaker and lead a memoir writing workshop. Your instructor may offer extra credit for attending one or more of the events and submitting a one-paragraph summary of your experience.
Schema Building Questions:
- What do you already know about Afghanistan and Afghan history? What questions do you have?
- What do you know about the Islamic religion? What questions do you have?
- What do you know about the U.S. war in Afghanistan, its causes, its progression, and its end? What questions do you have?
- What is the history of your family’s roots geographically and culturally? How connected are you to those places and cultures? In what ways, if any, do those cultures show up in your life?
Prologue, page 3:
Vocab: guffawed 3, derided 4, apoplectically 4, pundit 7, secular 9, agitator 10, nostalgia 10
Have you ever felt that something going on in the world, or the U.S., or even your local area, was a threat to you personally, or to someone in your family? How did you, or would you, react?
The attacks on 9/11 compel Tamim to write an emotional email to a few friends. What happens when the email message spreads, and how does Tamim respond? Describe some of his actions, fears, and regrets.
Part One: “The Lost World,” pages 13-97
Chapter 1, page 15: “Villages and Compounds”
Vocabulary: permeated 19, ablutions 19 , suffused 20, mullah 21, smattering 23, bohemians 23, vassals 29, punctuated 30
What are some of your experiences dealing with “primitive” living conditions (you might think about camping, backpacking, power outages, travel, etc.)? Can you imagine spending a length of time without access to electricity, urban amenities, or even furniture?
How are women treated in the Afghan culture Tamim was born into, and how was his mother, as a foreigner, treated differently than other women?
Chapter 2, page 32: “The Ansary Network”
Vocabulary: anarchic 33, prowess 33, spastic 34, nubile 37, redoubtable 40, acerbically 40, bumpkin 41
What stories and relatives form the identity of your family? If you don’t know very much about your family’s past, how do you think that has affected your own identity?
What do we learn in this chapter about Tamim’s uncles and his grandmother? Describe at least 2-3 things about some of these characters.
Chapter 3, page 42: “Germ of the West”
Vocabulary: disseminate 43, buoyant 43, somnolent 44, jocular 45, milieu 46, vis-a-vis 46, chafe 49, dichotomy 49, premonition 52
Describe your early experiences being taught the stories of a religious tradition and/or moral lessons: what stories captured your attention, and did you ever violate the rules of behavior? If so, were you caught?
Who were the four khalifas who succeeded Muhammad, and how did they differ? Why was Omar Tamim’s favorite?
Chapter 4, page 55: “Mortality”
Vocabulary: segued 56, boors 56, melancholy 58, profundity 59, inexorable 61 kismet 61, duplicitous 62
Write about a time you’ve had to face saying farewell to a place, pet, or person. How did you cope with the sadness? Were there any positive aspects to the upcoming change?
How did Tamim’s Afghan and Sufi background give him perspective on saying goodbye as the family prepared for its upcoming move?
Chapter 5, page 63: “American Lashkargah”
Vocabulary: pensive 63, bemused 63, escarpment 65, leprechaun 67, hinterlands 69, orator 70, paragon 73, innards 75, squelched 78, pugnaciously 82
Describe a time when you or someone you know felt excluded from a group of peers -- what happened, and how did the situation get resolved?
Why did the students at the school get beaten by the teacher, and why did Keyeum and Tamim’s father feel they had to support this action?
Chapter 6, page 83: “Unintended Consequences”
Vocabulary: afoul 83, erratic 83, blithely 84, solidarity 85
Describe a time when something big that you’d expected and prepared for turned out to have “unexpected consequences.” What happened, and in retrospect, what could you have done to avoid the outcome?
This brief chapter provides a step-by-step description of why the Afghan government’s plan in Helmand Valley didn’t go as expected. Write a short paragraph summarizing what happened.
Chapter 7, page 86: “Leaving Afghanistan”
Vocabulary: convened 87, coup-d’etat 89, innuendo 90, tact 91, thrummed 92, truck 93, repartee 93, furtively 94, coveted 95
Think about a time you were so happy and excited about something that you weren’t paying attention to the struggles of someone you cared about. What happened, and do you wish you’d done anything differently?
Why does Tamim feel he ultimately sided with the West, and that “Islam and the West have parted ways”? What do you think about his feelings on this issue?
Part Two: “Looking for Islam,” pages 99-219
Chapter 8, page 101: “The Letter”
Vocabulary: ruinous 101, hobnobbed 103, ultimatum 104, verboten 105, malefactions 109, feigned 111
Have you, or someone you know, ever had romantic feelings for someone you “shouldn’t” feel that way about? What complications did this create, and how did you react in the situation?
How does the Iranian revolution end up inspiring Tamim’s journey, and what are some of the reasons he decides to leave?
Chapter 9, page 113: “The Convert”
Vocabulary: destitution 113, scoffed 114, inadvertently 117, precluded 118, stropping 119, ostentation 122, irreverence 123
What, if any, religious background were you raised with, and what has made you become more or less religious at a certain point in your life? (If you don’t feel your own religious beliefs have changed, write about someone you know who seems to have gone through a change of beliefs.)
Describe some of changes in Tamim’s mother and brother that we learn about in this chapter. How do these changes seem to affect Tamim?
Chapter 10, page 125: “Tangier”
Vocabulary: warren 126, nonchalantly 127, pidgin 128, simulacrums 129, compunction 130, lax 131, nondescript 132, tenets 134, gauntlet 139, epithet 141, emanated 142
Have you ever had a scary encounter while traveling, or in an unfamiliar environment? What happened, and how did you respond?
What are the key things Abdullah tells Tamim to educate him about Islam?
Chapter 11, page 143: “Crossing Morocco”
Vocabulary: bereft 143, abstruse 145, promulgate 146, enjoin 146, jurisprudence 147, thwarted 149, furtive 150, bleated 152
Think of a time when you were traveling (or just around town, if you haven’t traveled) and were confronted with an opportunity to do something unexpected -- did you decide to do it? What happened? What were the risks that you considered? Do you wish you had made the opposite choice?
Why do you think the young man on the train wanted to take Tamim to this location in Morocco, and why was Tamim so unimpressed with the adventure?
Chapter 12, page 153: “The Border”
Vocabulary Note: From now on, for each chapter locate and define 3 new or sophisticated vocabulary words of your own.
Pre-reading question: Describe in detail a time when you or, “someone you know,” was afraid of being caught for something illegal.
Post-reading question: How did the Algerian government make sure that a visitor spent at least $100 dollars in their country and didn’t use any dinars they already had with them?
Chapter 13, page 156: “Crossing Algeria”
Pre-reading question: Describe a time when you felt uncomfortable around someone, or disliked that person, but that person wouldn’t leave you alone.
Post-reading question: What did the molluk want Tamim to do and how did Tamim get out of it? What were Tamim’s arguments?
Chapter 14, page 183: “Michelle”
Pre-reading question: Describe a time when you denied yourself something you wanted in order to follow your own principles.
Post-reading question:What does Tamim mean by “And that was the night I married Debby?” What did he do that made him feel that way?
Chapter 15, page 188: “The Bus to Turkey”
Pre-reading question: What’s the most difficult or scariest trip you’ve been on? If you can’t think of one, ask someone you know to describe one that you can tell us about.
Post-reading question: What difficulties did they encounter on the bus ride?
Chapter 16, page 194: “Istanbul”
Pre-reading question: What are problems that persist in our country through multiple presidents and administrations, no matter what party is in control? If you’re not sure, do some research.
Post-reading question: What is the argument about price controls and in what ways did price controls fail to work under Ecevit?
Chapter 17, page 201: “The Embassy”
Pre-reading question: Describe a time when someone’s opinion of you changed. What happened and why did it change?
Post-reading question: What epiphany, important realization, did Tamim have about his goal on this trip?
Chapter 18, page 209: “The True Believer”
Pre-reading question: Describe a belief that you have, religious, philosophical, or cultural. How does that belief affect your interactions, behavior, or relationships?
Post-reading question: What is Abdul Qayum’s claim about the lack of necessity for leaders in Islam? How does it strike you as an argument?
Part Three: “Forgetting Afghanistan,” page 221-285
Chapter 19, page 223: “The Rebel Leader”
Pre-reading question: Describe a cause that you or your family has supported. How did you learn about the cause, what did you do to support it, and why?
Post-reading question:How did Mujadeddi get others to like him, and what specifically did he do with Tamim?
Chapter 20, page 239: “My Father’s Masterpiece”
Pre-reading question: What are some similarities and differences between you and your parents or guardians?
Post-reading question: What did Tamim’s father consider his masterpiece and what did Tamim eventually do with it? What symbolic meaning do you take from the translation of it?
Chapter 21, page 249: “The Art of Losing”
Pre-reading question: Describe a time when you had a disagreement with someone to whom you were close and how it affected the relationship.
Post-reading question: What were Tamim’s main concerns about his brother’s ideology? In what ways does the statement “The windows are all mirrors…” (258) show up in this ideology?
Chapter 22, page 263: “Hanging On”
Pre-reading question: What charities or charitable work have you or your family supported and in what ways? What types of work do these charities do?
Post-reading question: How does Tamim connect the Taliban to the ideas he’s heard on his journeys throughout this book? What are his conclusions about the Taliban?
Epilogue, page 279
Pre-reading question: What does it mean, to you, to be an American, whether you are one or not? Where did you get these ideas?
Post-reading question: How are Tamim and Rebecca different in their relationship to Afghanistan?
“The E-mail,” page 287
Pre-reading question: Describe a time when an email, text, or communication of yours or someone else’s ended up going to people you didn’t expect.
Post-reading question: What are Tamim’s main concerns in this email?
Afterward, page 293
Pre-reading question: Describe a trip you took that turned out differently than you’d expected.
Post-reading question: When Tamim says, “The pattern is never visible until it’s over--and it’s never over” (300), what does he mean and how does it apply to one instance in this book?
Post Reading Question:
Write a one-page letter to Tamim Ansary that answers the following questions:
What did you think of the book and why? What did you learn? How did it connect with your own experiences? What questions do you still have?