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"A Bed of Red Flowers is more than the remarkable story of Nelofer Pazira’s difficult life in war-torn Afghanistan, her family’s sacrifices and escape, and her eventual triumph as a writer, teacher, journalist and actress. Written movingly, honestly and lyrically, it is the story of Afghanistan itself, a haunting diary of the tragedies that have plagued Pazira’s nation in the last thirty years."
—Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner
"Through occupation and civil war, from being a refugee to a movie star — Nelofer Pazira’s journey is a story told with passion, humanity and eloquence. Her unforgettable story provides a searing reminder of Afghanistan’s long years of war and how a country was held hostage long before September 11. A Bed of Red Flowers is a deeply moving tribute that will grip you from beginning to end."
—Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia
“A Bed of Red Flowers is a straightforward, open account of a childhood stained by war and stupidity. It is also a chronicle of the choices one woman made to live her life with courage and dignity, and for the benefit of others.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Powerfully and thoughtfully written, A Bed of Red Flowers is a rare account of a misunderstood country and its intrepid people, trying to live ordinary lives under extraordinary circumstances.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
“It’s a remarkable journey. An inspiring read.”
–The Gazette (Montreal)
“Equal parts lament for a long-gone era and memoir of a remarkable life, Nelofer Pazira’s A Bed of Red Flowers does exactly what a contemporary book about Afghanistan should do. It reminds us that behind that nation’s endlessly chronicled conflict and strife are real, three-dimensional people caught in the crossfire of political agendas and battles for supremacy.”
“The juxtaposition of Pazira’s life in Canada with that of Dyana, desolate and suicidal in Kabul, leavens the book and gives it both seriousness and page-turner appeal.”
–The London Free Press
“[A Bed of Red Flowers] is both a love letter to a country that no longer exists, and an optimistic–tempered with just the right amount of clear-eyed realism–look into a possible future.”
“Pazira presents the moving and stunningly written memoir of her childhood curtailed by the arrival of Soviet rule in Afghanistan and her family’s sacrifices and eventual escape to Canada.”
–Concordia University Magazine
“A Bed of Red Flowers is not merely a remarkable memoir of one family’s struggle; it’s also a succinct account of Afghanistan’s political history. Within these 400 suspenseful pages lies a concise retelling of the complexities and futility of war in a country constantly used as a battleground for other people’s ideologies. Pazira shows the reader the frustration of a diverse culture in which people have always had to choose between lack of safety and lack of sovereignty. This book is a victory, bringing us a truth banned or distorted by most with the power to speak about it. An enriching and heartrending read.”
“Pazira is a gifted and cinematic story-teller. Every page is a scene, moving the story through wartime survival and sacrifice to a relentless search for answers.”
2 Sleeping with Wolves
3 The Pilgrimage
4 The Night Choirs of Kabul
5 Token of Shame
6 Scud versus Stinger
7 Shadows on the Wall
8 Naseema's Revenge
9 A House of Martyrs
10 Season of Grief
11 Leave My Daughter Alone
13 The Tomb
A Bed of Red Flowers
By Nelofer Pazira
1. A Bed of Red Flowers begins with Nelofer Pazira's account of visiting her father, Habibullah, in prison when she was just four years old. He tells her: "I didn't raise you to cry on such a day." Discuss the author's relationship with her father. How does she feel about his political activism? How is she ultimately influenced by his beliefs?
2. Jamila, the author's mother, burns all the books in the house when her husband is suspected of being anti-government. What does this act symbolize to Nelofer, and what does it reveal about the Communist presence in Afghanistan?
3. How do the people of Afghanistan respond to the arrival of the Soviet army? What are some of their forms of passive resistance? Discuss some of the modes of active resistance that Nelofer and her friends from school engage in.
4. Nelofer's Uncle Asad and her father, Habibullah, disagree over the Afghan communist government. What are some of the consequences of political dissent in this era?
5. Discuss the role of the mujahidin — the resistance to the Soviet occupation — in A Bed of Red Flowers. How do they contribute to the dangerous conditions in Kabul and other strategically important cities? What are some of the daily dangers that Nelofer and her family endure at the hands of the mujahidin?
6. Who is Dyana, and what role does she play in Nelofer's childhood? How does their relationship evolve over the course of their lives? What do Dyana's letters reveal about the changing conditions of life in Afghanistan? Why do you think these letters motivate the author to return toAfghanistan?
7. How does the legend of Malalai inspire Nelofer, and what does she symbolize to the resistance movement in Afghanistan? Discuss Malalai's role in the Battle of Maiwand between the British and the Afghans.
8. Describe some of the measures the Pazira family takes in their escape to Pakistan. Who accompanies them on their long journey? How do they finally make it to the border? What did you think of the hardships they encountered on the way?
9. What does Nelofer come to realize about the leadership of mujahidin when she arrives in Pakistan? What is the dress code she must follow as a Persian literature teacher at one of the mujahidin-run schools? Discuss some of the other restrictions on women forced by Muslim extremists.
10. Nelofer Pazira writes: "What the Taliban are doing is regarded by some as a part of everyday Afghan culture. There is a strong sense of unease about condemning their actions." What do you think explains the international reluctance to intervene in politically and socially repressive conditions in other countries?
11. What does the author encounter when she returns to Afghanistan to make the film, Kandahar? How does she feel about wearing a burqa? What does it protect her from, and what does it symbolize? How does the author feel about Afghanistan's liberation by the United States in the days after September 11?
12. Why does the author decide to travel to Russia? What does this trip enable her to understand about the Communist ideology and its role in her childhood in Afghanistan?
Nelofer Pazira is a journalist and filmmaker based in Toronto. She starred in the movie Kandahar and was featured in Return to Kandahar, which she also coproduced and codirected. She currently works for the Canadian Broadcasting Company's nightly newscast, The National. She has also recently set up a charity — Dyana Afghan Women's Fund — to provide education and skills training for women in the city of Kandahar.
2. Since September 11, media coverage of Afghanistan has focused predominantly on the Taliban. How did your experience of reading A Bed of Red Flowers compare with following news reportage on Afghanistan? In what ways did the book provide a context for understanding the country’s present-day situation?
3. “Once the last tank has gone, the dust from their tracks settles on the surface of the wall, on the leaves of our almond, pear and fig trees, over the roses, on the grapevines and on my hair and face. On the pond, a thin skin forms on the surface of the water.” Pazira’s writing has been described as cinematic, her language lush with details both beautiful and harrowing. What images from the book stand out most vividly in your mind?
4. The prologue recounts Pazira’s experience of visiting her father in prison when she was four years old. What impact did this episode have on her? Why is it so pivotal in her development?
5. Pazira faces many painful contradictions in her life: her desire for personal freedom in Pakistan and her need to remain safe; the opportunity she enjoys in Canada and the oppression experienced by her best friend, Dyana, under the Taliban; her idealization of the mujahidin and her subsequent disillusionment. Does she manage to reconcile these aspects of her life?
6. Why does Pazira’s journey end in Russia? What does she learn both about Russian perspectives on the occupation of Afghanistan and her own attitude toward the Russian people?
7. A Bed of Red Flowers emphasizes the importance of familial love and support. What influence does Pazira’s father have on her? What are the most important insights he imparts to her? In what ways is she like him? Why does she write, “I think my mother is the most courageous of us all” in chapter 7?
8. Pazira writes: “A seed of anger, planted at the time of my father’s imprisonment, is inside me.” What role does anger play in Pazira’s life? Have you ever experienced a similar type of anger?
9. The Paziras’ story is truly extraordinary. And yet, what aspects of their experience might be considered universal to refugees around the world?
10. Discuss the role of the three women who inspire and motivate the author throughout her life: Malalai, Naseema and Dyana.
11. Did A Bed of Red Flowers have any effect on your perception of Afghan women, their plight in general and their role in society? How did Pazira’s account differ from the images you see of Afghan women in the media?
12. In writing about Dyana, Pazira offers one of the most affecting and profound expressions of friendship in print. Do you have a friend like Dyana? What would you do if she were in Dyana’s position?
13. “The pretense of normality is so pervasive that turmoil, physical and mental agony and family rows pass as something quite routine…” How would you describe this pretense of normality in psychological terms?
14. The chapter entitled “The Night Choirs of Kabul” offers a lyrical glimpse at the resilience of the Afghan people. What other acts of rebellion and courage stand out for you?
15. “For those lucky enough never to have experienced war, the word ‘peaceful’ has little meaning.” Did Pazira’s story make you re-examine your own experience of living in a prosperous, free and democratic country?
16. A Bed of Red Flowers blends personal memoir with history. How does one aspect enhance the other? What is Pazira’s view on the importance of “digging into the grave of history”?
Posted March 9, 2011
No text was provided for this review.