Shaila Abdullah



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Saffron Dreams
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  1. What is the significance of the title Saffron Dreams and how does it apply to the various characters in the novel?
  2. What effect did that opening scene have on your reception of the story that follows? There is a telling passage about Arissa’s transformation at the start of the book: “The wind tore the veil from my hand, making my task easier. I grasped the cold railing with one hand and swatted at the fleeting piece of my life with the other as the wind picked up speed.” What made Arissa particularly ripe for such a change? What significance did the veil have in her life and what did she associate it with? Has anything similar happened in your own life where you gave up something very dear to you?
  3. In Chapter 9, Arissa declares, “The safety of your loved ones is what breeds fear in your heart …. Unraveled from them, you are fearless. You can dangle by a thread, hang from the rooftop, bungee jump, skydive, walk a pole, hold your hand over the flame of a candle. Burnt, scalded, crashed, lost, dead, the only loss would be to your own self.” When does fear finally return to Arissa’s heart?
  4. In what other ways are similarities between Eastern and Western society evident in the novel? In what ways are those societies fundamentally different? For example did any characters in the novel particularly those close to Arissa like Ma and Baba surprise you in any way? Discuss how relationships in the East differ from the West.
  5. Some of the novel's most important revelations are reported through dreams and naysayers. How effective was that tool? How did you react to the Firedancer prophecy?
  6. Much of the book is a study on what it means to be an immigrant assimilating in the US. Discuss your own experiences with foreign cultures—things that you have learned and misconceptions you have overcome.
  7. At the core of the book is a powerful but simple message of awareness: don’t judge a race by the atrocities committed by its people. Do you think the author’s message is powerful enough to bring about a lasting and meaningful change in the general perception of Muslims?
  8. Did the book change your general views toward Islam or Muslims in any way? In Chapter 18, Arissa muses about the perception of Islam in the post 9/11 world. “We struggled to know ourselves only to lose ourselves in the interpretation of others, in the hyphenation of our worlds. Gaps widened, our hearts divided, we struggled privately, each one of us, to make sense of our shrinking world. I witnessed the lynching of a religion and race again and again.” Discuss this statement. Has the book inspired you to learn more about the region?
  9. What was the effect of reading the storyline through Arissa’s eyes? How would it have been different if it were done in the third person?
  10. Arissa was driven by some goals in her life post 9-11. Did you agree with those? Which one did you find the toughest? What is the boldest goal you have ever envisioned? How far did you pursue it?
  11. How does Arissa’s relationship with her own mother compare to Ma’s? What role does Ma play in Arissa’s journey as a parent of a special needs child? How did Arissa's early life influence her approach to mothering? What lessons did Arissa learn from having Ma in her life?
  12. What were your first impressions of Faizan and Arissa’s marriage? What bond did they share? Despite the hardships it caused, did Faizan's sudden death strengthen Arissa in some way?
  13. How did the novel's three distinct places—Karachi, New York and Houston—reflect the three distinct parts of Arissa's identity? Which one do you think she closely identifies as her true self?
  14. Did you agree that Arissa was right to take on her husband’s unfinished manuscript? Was Faizan’s legacy a burden or blessing for her?
  15. What makes the post 9-11 era an ideal setting for this storyline? How vastly did the details in Saffron Dreams differ from your impressions of that time?
  16. What were the factors that kept Arissa from getting close to Zaki emotionally? Why was she reluctant to get emotionally attached to him?
Cover: Saffron Dreams

Saffron Dreams
Arissa Illahi, a Muslim artist and writer, discovers in a single moment that no matter how carefully you map your life, it is life itself that chooses your destiny.

Buy Saffron Dreams

Cover: Beyond the Cayenne Wall

Beyond the Cayenne Wall
An award-winning collection of stories about Pakistani women struggling to find their individualities despite the barriers imposed by society.

Buy Beyond the Cayenne Wall

Copyright © Shaila Abdullah.
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