READING GUIDE, BIOGRAPHY, GLOSSARY OF CHARACTERS AND TERMS (SCROLL DOWN)
MY SISTERS MADE OF LIGHT READING GUIDE
The questions and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jacqueline St. Joan’s My Sisters Made of Light, a drama set inside Pakistan’s human rights movement, 1957 to 1994. My Sisters Made of Light follows three generations of a Pakistani family as they make their way through life in the political, social, and religious maze that is their motherland. This novel pulls readers into the fascinating, heartbreaking, and often terrifying world of honor crimes against women in Pakistan through the life and family history of Ujala, a dedicated teacher. When Ujala decides to follow the path for which her mother has prepared her, she goes a little crazy before she pushes aside fears for her own safety to help other women escape from the impossible situations.
- How does St. Joan’s use of alternating Ujala’s first-person narrative with the narrator’s third-person narrative from 1958 (when her parents met) and 1983 (when her mother died) affect your response to, and involvement with, the characters?
- Nafeesa says she wants to return to Pakistan from London to say goodbye to Jameel. Her Aunt Najma opposes this and urges Nafeesa and Kulraj to stay in London. Why does Nafeesa insist? Why does Kulraj comply with her wishes? Are they brave or foolish to return? Why?
- Nafeesa never tells her children about what happened to her in Shalimar Garden even though Kulraj thinks they are old enough to know. Would you tell your children? Why does Jabril Kazzaz agree that they should not be told even as adults? Do you think these children as adults may have “known” what happened on some deeper level? Why or why not?
- Which sister--Reshma, Ujala, Faisa, or Meena--is most complex? Who is most straightforward? Which was your favorite and why?
- Do you think that major male characters—Kulraj Singh, Jabril Kazzaz, Amir-- are “too good?” How will they manage to go on without the women in the family?
- What image would you use to describe the structure of the novel as it moves around in time? A tree? A river? A circle? Did you find its non-chronological structure satisfying? Disturbing? Didn’t notice?
- What does Rahima Mai’s response to both Yusuf’s bribe and to the escape plan reveal about her character? Is Rahima Mai better off without Ujala in her life?
- What is the significance of the fact that Ujala decides to carry a gun?
- How has reading this book affected the way you think about Muslims as a group? About Islam as a religion? Did you notice other religions in the novel?
- What do the author’s Acknowledgements at the end of the book tell you about her? About Pakistan? As an outsider, is she qualified to write such a story?
- How did you use the map of Paksitan and the Family Tree throughout your reading of My Sisters Made of Light?
- One reviewer writes: “In her writing, St. Joan comes much closer to Kristof [Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times columnist] than she does to [Stieg] Larsson, [author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo] though with a healthy dash of Harriet Beecher Stowe.” What do you think this reviewer means? Do you agree?
- How does the novel affect your response to the social and political conditions in Pakistan? Do you find yourself being more understanding or more judgmental of Pakistanis and/or their leaders?
- Were you unsympathetic to any of the honor crime victims—Bilquis? Khanum? Chanda? Nafeesa? Others?
- Is Reshma, the oldest sister, an admirable character? What major factor changes her attitude in the course of the story?
- Ujala recounts a conversation she had with Lia Chee: “American empire?” Lia said. She did not like to hear me call her country by the term the rest of the world used. “Now you sound like a fundie.” “Just a turn of phrase,” I said, “but ‘empire’ does signify something. You know what I mean?” Do you know what she means? How did you, as an American, react to Ujala’s calling America an “empire?”
- Which visual images in the novel are the most memorable for you? Why?
- How does My Sisters Made of Light highlight the conflict between the conservative and the liberal elements in Pakistani society? What role do class, religion, and ethnicity play in honor crimes?
- Is My Sisters Made of Light a love story? a hero's journey? a social commentary? a political novel?
- What do you find most disturbing/satisfying about the novel's denouement? If you find yourself imagining an alternate ending, what would that ending be?
- What meaning, if any, do you find in the book’s title?
While both exploring and at times avoiding her calling as a writer, Jacqueline St. Joan worked as a secretary, a teacher, a cab driver, a lawyer, judge, and law professor. A single mother who came of age in the 1960s during the “second wave” of feminism, advocacy for domestic violence reforms has been core to her professional career and her life in general. This book was the result of being introduced to a Pakistani teacher in 2002 who told her about her own efforts to help first, her student, and then other women escape from honor crimes.
Her first book was an anthology co-edited with an English professor, Beyond Portia: Women, Law and Literature in the United States, published in 1997. Her poetry and nonfiction have been appeared in a variety of publications, including Ms., The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Women’s Law Journal, Empire Magazine, The Denver Post, and Thinking Women, Chrysalis.
St. Joan’s work has been awarded prizes from Colorado Council on the Humanities, Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute, Chrysalis Reader, Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, University of Colorado, and the Denver Press Club, among others.
She teaches part-time at Metropolitan State University of Denver and lives in Denver where she tries to spend as much time as she can with her four grandchildren.
GLOSSARY OF CHARACTERS AND TERMS (Thank you to Stormy McDonald of AAUW)
|Abida||mother of Zeshan|
|Aga gi||Grandfather of 3 teachers in chitral|
|Ahmed||father of Nafeesa|
|Ali||Older brother of Nafeesa|
|Amir||twin brother of Meena, sibling of Ujala|
|an Ahmadi||declared illegal by the mullahs, then by Parliament., not pure enough (revisionist heretics)|
|Ayman||known since childhood by Taslima, Wants to marry her, but her|
|Bhutto, Benazir||murder trial|
|Bilqis||Christian girl, Carnival. Burned by uncle, age 15|
|Chanda Khan||15yo, Women's shelter, Lahore; wants to become dancer in Chitral. Balochi, Pathan chanda Khan|
|Dean Albion||London eng. Professor|
|Faisah||b 1967, sister to Ujala, lawyer|
|Farhada's Daughters||traveling theatre company, dance w storytelling|
|Fatimah||friend of Nafeesa|
|Gen. Zia||late 70s, promulgated Hudood Ordinances|
|Guru Gobind Storybook|
|Hasaan Behrani||Faisah's bodyguar/musclemand, a gift of Jabril Kazzaz|
|haveli||family's compound on banks of Undus, multistoried brick mansion w marble floors & Persian gates|
|Ibrahim||husband of Nafeesa's aunt in London, in America|
|Jabril Kazzaz||Gandhi of Lahore, role model, humanitarian jihad, struggle w mod world, engagement, not opposition, largest welfare org in Pakistan,|
|Jameel||Younger brother of Nafeesa, 14 (1958)|
|Jina Awan||female lawyer|
|Judge Rizvi||no-nonsense judge in Province|
|Khan Shazad||father of Chanda Khan, of Lahore|
|Khanum Wazir||train traveler w Ujala, later escaping from older husband|
|Kholis||Hindus who orig inhabited Sindh & w. desert of India|
|Kramot||neighbor hired as driver to Rakhni re: Khanum|
|Kulraj Singh||b 1930, Sikh, Arabic name Ehtisham Mohammad, husband of Nafeesa, Father of 4 daughters, son|
|La illaha illa Allah Mohammad rasul Allah There is no God but god & Mohammad is His Prophet|
|Lia Chee||American journalist, met Ujali in NW Frontier Province, dev women's radio station; Singapore|
|Lila||friend of Chanda, dancer|
|Mahmar Khaliq||power broker, tire factories, late forties, chosen husband for Nafeesa|
|masala||, spinach & cheese, chickpeas|
|Masood||servant in Ujala's parents' home|
|Meena||sister to Ujala, marries Zeshan, radio|
|Mohammad||, student of obscure Islamist scholar, Sayyid Hamri|
|Mrs. Jamali||Physical Therapist of Nafessa after stroke|
|Mrs. Shahani, Robina||helped Ujala w shopping, raised in Sukkur (poor area)|
|Nafeesa||b 1933, Mother of 4 daughters, twin brother, wife of Kulraj Singh|
|Nahida||Bilqis elder sister|
|Najma||Nafeesa's aunt in London|
|Rahima Mai||, orig. from Muzaffavad, kashmiri area. Spouse: Akbar (DECEASED)|
|Rashad||husband of Taslima who wanted divorce from her. Their mothers - sisters.|
|Reshma||b 1960, wife of Mohammad, elder sister of Ujala, Faisah, Meena, and Amir, daughter of Nafeesa & Kulraj Singh|
|Robina||aunt/mother of orphaned nieces/nephews, would shelter Khanum|
|Sabira||teacher, sister Tahira|
|Sadiq||brother of Chanda assisted father by holding Chanda while nose was cut|
|Sita Chengur||Kholi girl in Central Prison w 2 sisters , Faisah helped her legally|
|Syed||father of 3 teachers in chitral|
|Taslima Rashad||former student|
|Ujala||main character, b 1964, daughter of Nafeesa & Kulraj Singh, siblings: Reshma, Faisah, Meena, & Amir, shining Light|
|Waheguru I ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh||The Khalsa belongs to God and to God alone belongs the victory.|
|WASP||Women's Aid Society of Pakistan|
|Wazir Hashmi||older husband of Khanum from rakhni in balchistan|
|Yaqub||security man at bldg of Jina Awan's law firm|
|Yasmeen||mother of Nafeesa|
|Yusuf Salman||journalist in America, old boyfriend of Ujala|
|Zeshan Shaheed||Orphanage accountant, gr. Grandfather was an Ahmadi, parents: Muslim,husband of Meena|