The Four Words for Home

Book Club Guide

  1. The Four Words for Home weaves together the stories of two families. How did the stories of the Shirzais and the Chuangs intersect with and echo each other?
  2. Angie Chuang meets the Shirzais in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. What do you recall about that time in your life and community? Would you have responded to meeting the Shirzai family at that time in the same way?
  3. Angie Chuang’s family struggles with cultural taboos and blind spots surrounding her father’s mental illness. What taboos and blind spots affect the Shirzai family? How have similar walls in your own family or culture played out in your life?
  4. Angie admits that when she leaves for Afghanistan, she’s actually relieved to escape temporarily from her family’s problems into another family’s life. Can you relate to that feeling? When have you escaped, or wanted to escape, and how did you do it?
  5. One preparation Angie makes to go to Afghanistan is learning to wear a chador, or headscarf. What kinds of cultural adaptations have you made in your life and travels that either challenged you or gave you new insights?
  6. Arriving in Afghanistan, Angie is welcomed into a world of women inside a culture that observes purdah, the separation of men and women. Inside that world, she finds an intense closeness between and with women, as well as a subtle social network that does everything from keep in her line to, ultimately, even try to facilitate a marriage for her. What do you feel are the benefits and liabilities of visiting, or even existing in, that kind of culture?
  7. What surprised you about Afghanistan as she experienced and observed it? What was as you had expected, based on what you have learned about the country through news media or other sources?
  8. What would you have done if Rochina and Nazo had asked you if you wanted to marry their brother?
  9. How does the loss of Mohammed Shirzai affect all of the Shirzais throughout The Four Words for Home? Do you think Amina was trying to tell Angie something about his capture and execution that day at the old house?
  10. When Angie returns to the United States, things with her family and father deteriorate. What do you wish she and her father could have said to each other or acknowledged?
  11. Did the fractures in the Shirzai family that happened in the latter part of the book surprise you? How do they reflect struggles that are common between the first and second generations of immigrant families? Or between parents and children of all families?
  12. How did you feel about Angie’s conflicted encounter with Mohib in Chapter 14?
  13. Were you surprised about what you learned from Angie’s meeting with Julia and Daoud’s relationships with women? Did you perceive him differently after learning about them?
  14. How did you feel about Laila’s conflicts about falling in love with Tim, and were you happy to learn about the final outcome of their long relationship?
  15. Angie Chuang has said that she hopes her book helps people develop a more nuanced understanding of Afghanistan, Afghan Americans, and Afghan culture. How do you think reading The Four Words for Home might influence readers’ thinking about those?