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Book Club Reading Guide

  1. This novel has been called “. . .a splendid hymn to love, dignity, honour and duty.” even though the novel is set in the ever war embroiled Middle East. Were these seeming contradictions reconciled in the novel?
  2. Do you find you gained a deeper understanding of the many aspects of the conflict after reading this book? How did your prior knowledge of the Middle East affect your perception of this book?
  3. The concept of Sulha – which means in both Hebrew and Arabic: forgiveness, reconciliation, peace– is central in the book.  Do you think a complete sulha was accomplished in this novel? Did Leora make peace with her husband’s death, her son’s decision, her current husband, her upbringing, childhood, lover – with the True Arabs, as the Bedouins refer to themselves?
  4. Discuss the significance of duality – a major theme Sulha: Dave’s dual loyalties as well as the Camel Rider’s; Leora’s two husbands; Abu Salim’s two wives; and the desert, “a place where good and bad are wedded like sun and shade, where a stranger is always received and always shut out, a place where the common language is often silence or guns, where the horizon is wide and the boundaries are narrow . . .”
  5. Is the “official” reason Leora states for her journey to the Sinai Desert and to The Forbidden Tents the “real” reason? Is Leora’s journey a quest “ to find the woman buried in the rubble of widowhood? Or is she escaping to the desert?
  6. Why couldn’t Leora have solved her dilemmas in Canada? What might this tell us about her, Canada, and the immigrants to Canada?
  7. If you, like Leora, were obliged by law to decide whether or not to allow your only son to serve high-risk military duty in defense of your nation, what would be your decision?
  8. Throughout her stay in the Forbidden Tents, Leora wonders why this Bedouin clan broke their tribal law, which forbids all strangers to enter their women’s tents. What do you believe compelled these Bedouins to invite Leora to stay with them?
  9. What compelled Leora to remain with her Bedouin hosts after the rumor was smuggled to her that she might be staying in tents where a father will kill his son and a brother will kill his sister? Why didn’t she, or Tal, Hillel and el Bofessa alert the authorities?
  10. Leora is an outsider not only in the remote Bedouin tents, but also in her native Israel and her husband’s native Canada. How do the many layers of her Outsiderdom interact? Consider the differences between observing and noting the action as opposed to participating, engaging in them. By observing, does one become a de facto participant?
  11. What should be the position of a modern society concerning tribal cultures living within it? Does society have the right to enforce its modern laws? What about honouring the cultural codes? Where should the line be drawn, if at all? Should the custom of women’s circumcision, for example, be allowed? As well as polygamous marriage or Honour killings?
  12. Can you envision a society with a liberal worldview living in seclusion like the Bedouins? Does the very fact that they live so isolated make it necessary to have strict rules of human conduct?
  13. Can people be transformed by an experience of the “other” in a way, which sensitizes us to moral differences between cultures and makes us respectful and tolerant of their practices? Clearly, Leora is estranged by the rite of female circumcision among the Bedouin, to give one example, and no measure of her newly acquired respect and tolerance will spare her a sense of cultural and moral distance on this point. Can one maintain both sides of this relationship to the “other” without losing one’s own sense of self, one’s honesty, one’s openness and one’s commitments?
  14. Despite their differences, some of the characters in this novel become close friends and confidants. Are these true friendships? How do they influence on one another’s outlook on life? Do any of them truly change their beliefs during the course of this novel?
  15. How is Leora a different person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning? Was there any particular point in the book that marked the turn?
  16. Sulha was written in a unique style: like the Sinai’s dry river beds, the novel is constructed in circles, and some parts within these circles are narrated in a lyrical poetic style, other in mythic style, and some in a journalistic reporting style. Which sections would you attribute to which of these three styles? Examine the effects of these various styles on the novel, and on your perception of the novel.
  17. The personal versus the tribal are interwoven in many cases in both the Israeli and Arab-Bedouin societies, as in Leora’s dilemma whether to give her consent to her son, and in the case of Abu Salim’s dilemma over whether to pay for Bride Price with rights to smuggling routes or to water holes. Discuss other places where the personal and tribal are tightly linked, and where they are parallel.
  18. What did the war widow Leora and the war hero Tal share in common? What attracted one to each other? What kept their relationship fueled? What do you think happened to them after the novel left them?
  19. Discuss the effect of warfare on personal life, belief, morality, conduct, spirit, relationships, love – of mate, child, parent, country.
  20. Twenty-two years after her husband was killed Leora still grieves for him. Does it ring true to you? Did you suffer sudden loss? Is the trauma of sudden loss any different in the case of the missing in action, killed in action, or killed in a car accident, or a heart attack?
  21. Did Leora betray everything her husband Arik lived and died for when she ‘dropped out’ to Canada? Talk about the theme of betrayal and guilt in this novel. Has everybody in this novel betrayed somebody or some ideal?
  22. In his praise of Sulha, Leonard Cohen pointed out that “. . . Crucial human questions, (are) passionately addressed, and answered in a spirit of humanity . . .” do you agree? What specific questions do you think were raised in Sulha? Were they resolved? What questions do you wish Sulha explored?
  23. “Silence is a speaker” in this novel, what does it say?


After reading this novel, Ann Michaels noted that, “Sulha attempts to reconcile ancient conflicts, the living and the dead, forgetting and forgiving, within the compassion and frailties of its characters . . .” Does it apply to the conflict between Awaad’s clan and their Sheik? Do you agree or disagree with the Sheik that the conflict in the Middle East is sparked not only by the dispute over land and water and religion but by the concept of time: modern Vs. ancient, and authority: male hierarchal Vs. democracy?

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