Reading Group Guide
City of Veils

Questions and Topics for Discussion


  1. In Saudi Arabia, American expatriates such as the Marxes and the Walkers can either live in an American compound or in the city among regular Saudi citizens (36-37). Based on Patty’s and Miriam’s experiences, do you think one is safer than the other? Which option would you choose?

  2. Both Faiza and Katya must lie about their marital status to keep their jobs (142-143). Do you think a woman’s marital status affects her effectiveness in the workplace? Are women in the U.S. perceived differently depending on their marital status?

  3. Osama muses, “everyone knew that if a suspect couldn’t be found, the police would happily take a relative as insurance until the suspect chose to turn themselves in” (136). What do you think of this strategy? Can it be justified by the fact that “more often than not, it was one of those family members who had committed the crime” (71)?

  4. When they first meet, Mabus warns Miriam that foreign “men love Saudi Arabia about as much as their wives seem to hate it” (14). What is it about the Saudi way of life that might appeal to Western men? Given what Miriam later learns about Eric, do you think Mabus’s prediction was accurate in Eric’s case?

  5. During the murder investigation, we learn about Leila’s passion for filmmaking, especially on controversial topics. Do you think Leila was making documentaries to expose the truth or just to be provocative? Can these motives overlap? What did she have to gain from these videos?

  6. Katya and Nayir struggle to build a relationship in a society that does not allow single men and women to interact without chaperones. Do you think there is any benefit to having these kinds of restrictions? How might Katya and Nayir’s relationship have developed differently if they lived in a country that did not have such rules?

  7. In the novel, Ferraris explains the phenomenon of the “summer holiday marriage” (196). While Katya disapproves of it, we learn that Nayir used to carry a temporary marriage document in case he found himself alone with a woman (316). Do you think either type of temporary marriage is acceptable? Does it affect the way the society views the institution of marriage? How is this different from the way Western countries view sexual mores and marriage?

  8. Miriam recalls several instances of the religious police, whom she calls “the God Squad,” making their presence felt in Jeddah (38, 60). How does her reaction to them differ from the reactions of Nayir, Katya, and Osama (145-146, 355)? Were you surprised by any of the depictions of the role of the religious police in Saudi life?

  9. Nayir reflects that Eric had “failed to understand that when a woman is cloistered, your duties to her multiply a dozenfold” (278). What might be some of the responsibilities a Saudi man has to his wife? How may the challenges of a Saudi marriage be similar to or different from those of an American marriage?

  10. Nayir and Osama break religious law by interfering in a fight between two women (283). Do you think they acted ethically? What are other examples in the book of characters going against the rules to do what they think is right? Do you agree or disagree with their choices?

  11. Osama has a very strong reaction to what he finds hidden in Nuha’s purse (140-141). Were you surprised by his response? Is he correct in thinking that “everybody ha[s] a secret trigger” (207)? Do you think their marriage will survive this shock and Nuha’s confession (309-310)?

12. Osama is surprised by foreign perceptions of Saudi Arabia as a place rife with religiously motivated violence: “Yes, occasionally there was violence in the name of religion here, but in his experience, there was more violence in the name of everyday things: a broken wedding vow, a quiet theft” (344). Did the novel change any of your assumptions about Saudi Arabia or its people? What might be some Saudi assumptions about the U.S.?