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Brown Boy includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction Brown Boy is an uncompromising interrogation of identity, family, religion, race, and class, told through Omer Aziz’s incisive and luminous prose.
In a tough neighborhood on the outskirts of Toronto, miles away from wealthy white downtown, Omer Aziz struggles to find his place as a first-generation Pakistani Muslim boy. He fears the violence and despair of the world around him and sees a dangerous path ahead, succumbing to aimlessness, apathy, and rage.
Weaving together his powerful personal narrative with the books and friendships that move him, Aziz wrestles with the contradiction of feeling like an Other and his desire to belong to a Western world that never quite accepts him. He poses the questions he couldn’t have asked in his youth: Was assimilation ever really an option? Could one transcend the perils of race and class? And could we—the collective West—ever honestly confront the darker secrets that, as Aziz discovers, still linger from the past?
In Brown Boy,
Omer Aziz has written a book that eloquently describes the complex process of creating an identity that fuses where he’s from, what people see in him, and who he knows himself to be. Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Think back to the opening of this memoir. Why do we start in an interrogation room in Israel rather than Canada or America or somewhere else? What is the significance of beginning here, and how does this scene echo throughout Omer’s coming-of-age story?
2. The first scene establishes how one can be an outsider with others despite similar race, ethnicity, or culture. How does the author establish this feeling to echo with the rest of the book and how does he find ways to navigate his identity, religious upbringing, and professional life?
3. How does family, cultural, and generational differences come into play in this work?
4. How does privilege play a role in this memoir? For example, how does Omer’s experience growing up in a Canadian working-class town differ from his time in a French low-income immigrant town for example?
5. In Paris, Omer faces an existential crisis, depression, and shame over his life and the expectations of his family. How has his past affected his future? What are ways families can help their children succeed while encouraging mental health and growth?
6. Describe Omer’s return to Canada from England. How is he treated differently? Think back to a time when you made your own path in life and returned to your hometown. How were you treated differently or the same? What changes did you see in yourself, in others, in your environment?
7. What does the title Brown Boy
mean to you after reading the memoir?
8. How does history play a significant role in this book?
9. How do we view the ending on Omer’s journey to Pakistan? What did you learn from it?
10. How has Omer changed over the course of the memoir? What did you take away from the book?
11. Consider Omer’s love of books as a transformative experience. What books have changed your life?
12. How play does class differ in America, England, and France through the author’s perspective? How are these places similar but distinct and how does the author navigate these places?
13. The title Brown Boy
was inspired by Richard Wright's Black Boy
. After reading this memoir, read Richard Wright’s classical text and note how Omer and Richard are having the same conversation or where they differ.
14. In Brown Boy
, Omer says this about memory: “Memory was testimony, a record of partial truths, a reclamation of personal history. Memory was imperfect, but it was a record that could be preserved, a way of seeing” (page 293). How have your memories played to you and your family’s truths and history? How have they shaped who you are today and who you were before?