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Reading Group Guide for The Solace of Trees

Powerful, eye opening reading for everyone. Library Journal


1. The books opening scene might almost be out of a political thriller. Is The Solace
of Trees more than that or, rather, a nuanced work of literature chronicling the fate
of one young refugee, and yet a story with unavoidable political overtones? Is it a
political book at all?

2. What key episodes of Amirs childhood in Bosnia help shape him into the young
man he becomesinto someone who can draw on an inner reserve to facilitate his
healing from trauma, adapt to a new homeland and new family, and, ultimately, to
endure the second tragedy that awaits him?

3. Discuss the main characters during Amirs time in Bosnia, and their importance to
hime.g. his father, Asaf; his mother, Amina; his sister, Minka; and his friend,
Josif.

4. The description of Zoran and Sonja osi, the couple whose farm Amir finds
precarious refuge on, is riveting and disquieting. Discuss the relationship between
Zoran and Sonja. Can you find the metaphor the author uses to compare an act of
Zorans to that of acts of inhumanity carried out in war?

5. Comment on Amirs friendship with Josif, and how its tragic end affects him and
shapes his healing process.

6. Why does Pia, at the UN refugee camp, decide to help Amir from among so many
other refugees in the same situation? What do you imagine your own reaction
might be if you were in her position?

7. When he is relocated to the United States, Amir is placed in the foster care of an
older, widowed woman, Margaret. Hence he is raised American. Even though
Margaret, given her professional background as a psychologist, may have been
better-positioned to guide him toward healing, would it have been better for Amir
to have been placed with a Bosnian family of similar background to his?
8. Soon after taking Amir into her home, Margaret ponders his sudden place in her
life: Watching him struggle up the small rise to the orchard, Margaret strained to
feel some tangible sense of the child as her foster son, or even just of him as a
person called Amir. What are some key points in the growing bond between her
and Amir that culminate in a mother-son relationship?

9. Comment on the relationship between Amir and Alice, Margarets daughter, and
Paul, Alices husband. How does Amirs bond with them, his awareness of having
an extended family in America, help sustain him late in the book?

10. Comment on Amirs relationship with Professor Ashrawi. Is Amir nave to agree
to help out on Ashrawis Internet media projects in support of the Palestinian
cause? Is Zach Ashrawi unfairly targeted by the FBI? Discuss what you know of
Israeli-Palestinian politics in the United States.

11. Why is it significant that Amir focuses on film once he enters college? How does
his choice relate to his past, and does he in fact seem on the path toward
becoming a truly accomplished, objective filmmaker, or is he motivated by
subjective concerns that might compromise the quality of his work?

12. Is Harold Tillman, the film department chair, fair in his assessment of Professor
Ashrawi and Amir? In his place, how would you respond to the FBI, to Agent
Tillman?

13. Amirs relationship with Jadranka is made all the more complex because of what
each of them went through in the Bosnian war. Comment on the differences you
see that shared experience bringing to their relationship compared with that of an
average young American couple forming a relationship.

14. Is the book fair in its assessment of the US government and its War on Terror?
Too harsh? Not harsh enough? Discuss the point of view of Berger, one of Amirs
interrogators at the prison. Is there any place for conscience in a soldiers role
during an armed conflict?

15. Much of the narrative unfolds in silence, deep within the thoughts of Amir and
the books other characters. This silence echoes nature, as well as the deafness
that afflicts Amir after a paramilitary throws a grenade in his family home. In
what ways does the silence help shield Amir? In what ways does it relate to his
profound connection with the natural world, to his memories of the forest in rural
Bosnia? How do these memories help sustain him later as a prisoner?

16. Discuss the story in the context of your knowledge of the Bosnian War and, more
broadly, the wars in the former Yugoslavia that, in the 1990s, as most of Eastern
Europe transitioned to democracy amid relative peace, marked Europes worst
armed conflict and refugee crisis since World War II?
17. Relate the story of Amir to the Syrian War and other conflicts, contemporary or
otherwise, that have repeatedly brought the situation of the worlds refugees to the
forefront of the news. How has The Solace of Trees helped shape your
understanding of the issue?

18. Is the ending hopeful? Too hopeful? Not hopeful or definitive enough? How do
you imagine the weeks and months that follow?

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