Book Discussion Questions: Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Cover of Half the SkyTitle: Half the Sky
Author: Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Page Count: 294 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Issues
Tone: Inspirational

Summary from publisher:

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope. They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

Questions composed by MPPL Staff

1. Half the Sky is not the first book to raise worldwide social issues. What about this work makes it stand out? Why do you think it has taken hold, even sparked a movement?

 2. Would you describe Half the Sky as a difficult book to read? A worthwhile one? Believable? Tragic? Overhyped?

3. From the introduction: “Many of the stories in this book are wrenching, but keep in mind this central truth: ‘Women aren’t the problem, but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.’” Do they make their case?

4. How did you read this book? In large chunks? Small sections? Audio? How do you think that impacted your experience?

5. Have any of you seen the documentary before or after reading Half the Sky? Before or after? How did that complement your experience? Any significant differences?

6. How did you respond to the writing style and the book structure? Would you say these choices are what makes it accessible?

7. Gender politics and issues can be tricky. Do the authors succeed in moving this beyond a “women’s issue” to a “human rights issue”? Would the case have been more difficult to make if two women were writing about the issues?

8. “Frankly, we hesitate to pile on the data, since even when numbers are persuasive, they are not galvanizing. A growing collection of psychological studies show that statistics have a dulling effect, while it is individual stories that move people to act. In one experiment…”

Is this a fair representation? Do we rise to stories but nod-and-pass too easily with statistics? Is it true across the board or do you think it differs according to individual? Were there numbers that shocked you?

9. The authors do rely on stories to bring the issues to life. Which ones stood out? Even if you don’t recall names — which situations, images, atrocities have stayed with you? What proposed solutions excited you or seemed most promising?

 10. Did it surprise you at all that so many were willing to share such painful stories with a male American journalist? In what ways does owning and telling the story empower the individual?

11. “Rescuing girls is the easy part…the challenge is keeping them from returning.” How could this be true?

12. How does a book like this affect how you view the world?

13. Were you surprised by the extent to which women were involved in oppression or abuse of other women? Why or why not?

14. Did you find the book balanced in revealing what doesn’t necessarily work/unintended consequences without cherry-picking results?

15. Some raise the concern that journalism of this type can be sensationalistic, voyeuristic, or even endanger the subjects. In what ways are these valid? Does the good outweigh the bad?

16. Did you sense any political agenda or bias in the writing?

17. Even though the book focuses on Africa and Asia, many of the problems addressed occur in Europe and the U.S. as well. How are these issues similar across regions, and how do they differ?

18. The writers address the idea of cultural imperialism: “If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, food-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures.” How do you respond? How do we walk a tightrope in terms of telling another culture what they believe is right or wrong?

19. From the documentary: “Sometimes people want to do too much, so they do nothing. They say, ‘I cannot help.’ Everyone can help. Everyone can do one thing.” Is there truth in this? How do we overcome those mental obstacles?

20. The book was first published in 2009. Do you think anything has change? Have you heard of the “movement” before reading Half the Sky?

21. When we feel convicted or inspired by a work such as Half the Sky, how do we keep that active? How do we keep ourselves from forgetting or sinking back into complacency?

Other Resources

 Half the Sky Movement webpage
Lit Lovers Discussion Questions
Videos produced by Half the Sky Movement
Discussion facilitation guide for Half the Sky
Video interview with Kristof and WuDunn
Extended interview with Kristof and WuDunn
Article: What’s So Scary About Smart Girls?

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