21 Questions for An Isolated Incident Book Club


1) Do you think Billy and Zari will tell their children about their ‘histories’?

2) Zari claims that ‘the dead have to be revered no matter what.’ Is this true?

3) What do you think the Nabis are protecting their children from by not telling that them that Zari was raped?

4) Mr. Zoon refuses to leave Kashmir and Mrs. Zoon refuses to leave him. Mrs. Nabi expects her children to toe the line and Mr. Nabi goes along with her. Are the parents in this novel ‘good’ parents?

5) What does it mean in the novel to be ‘selfish’ versus ‘selfless’?

6) Love all you want but only the right person, Mrs. Nabi says. What does she mean? Do you think there is any validity to Mrs. Nabi and Fahad’s mother’s worries about Zari being ‘damaged goods’?

7) Why is Zari so reluctant to see a psychiatrist? How could the Nabis have been better prepared to welcome her into their family?

8) Do you think a hyphenated identity like Billy’s i.e. Kashmiri-Pakistani-American is a bridge or a barrier? What is the novel’s take on this?

9) Mr. Nabi is an atheist albeit also a ‘cultural Muslim’. Mrs. Nabi is a practicing Muslim. Billy himself is agnostic. Has this family changed your perception of what it means to be Muslim?

10) What are the differences between Billy and Fahad? How does Zari’s perception of them change over the course of the novel?

11) Do you think ‘sorry’ is a powerful or powerless word?

12) What role does silence play in the novel? What are the different types of silences enforced and expected? How are they broken?

13) At one point all the Nabis and Zari blame themselves for Billy’s departure. Are they right? Or is Billy alone responsible for his decisions?

14) What is Billy’s concept of being a hero and making a difference in the world? When does this change?

15) When Zari searches the internet for information on rape, she comes across porn sites. This reminds her of an Indian movie in which a judge orders a rapist to marry the rapee, who subsequently falls in love with him. What do these examples show about these respective cultures? How does Zari navigate between them?

16) Zari accuses Billy of seeing her as a charity case, his cause célèbre. What do you agree?

17) How does Billy’s time at the terrorist training camp aid him in understanding Zari? What does he learn about himself?

18) How do Abid and Nazeer challenge Billy’s sense of identity and belonging?

19) Billy’s time in Afghanistan and in Chacha Palmistry’s house challenge his concept of loyalty and betrayal? Why do you think he ultimately chooses to not revise his grandfather’s history?

20) A major debate in An Isolated Incident is the necessity of knowing where we have come from in order to be our best true selves. What does this mean in light of globalization ?

21) The novel ends with a memory. Is it fitting? Does looking back mean Zari has not completely moved on?