Beyond the Books

Home » Posts tagged 'Women’s Fiction'

Tag Archives: Women’s Fiction

Character Interview: Sarah Rosenfeld from Sophia Bar-Lev’s novel, THE SILVER LOCKET

Book Cover - The SIlver LocketWe’re thrilled to have here today SARAH ROSENFELD from Sophia Bar-Lev’s new novel, THE SILVER LOCKET. SARAH is a 23-year-old nursing assistant living in Boston, Mass.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so for this interview, Sarah.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Given the intense emotional components of my story, I think the book portrays an accurate and penetrating look into my mind and soul. As you know, sexual assault leaves far more than physical bruises, it is intensely traumatic and when followed by an unexpected and untimely pregnancy, you have the recipe for potential disaster.  I am thankful that my story ends in a reconciliation that was beyond my wildest dreams and the journey to that point is unfolded from chapter to chapter in a sensitive yet very realistic manner.  Yes, I do feel I was fairly and compassionately portrayed.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently? 

I do think the author did a good job. Having been forced to cope at a young age with the loss of my parents, I struggled with feelings of rejection and abandonment. It is my hope that my eventual triumph over those fears will inspire the readers to find within themselves the courage to overcome whatever fears that haunt them.

What do you believe is your strongest trait? 

Persistence.  I struggle but I do not give up.

Worse trait?

Fear of abandonment.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)? 

Jennifer Garner – I admire her and think she’d play a fantastic ‘Sarah’.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

My husband, Joe, the love of my life.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out? 

In the chapter where I finally decided to come clean with Joe about the baby I had when he was away for nearly a year, working in Arizona during the war.  Joe was a diabetic and couldn’t qualify for military service. As jobs were scarce in Massachusetts at the time for a man of his skills, he went to Arizona to work for nearly a year.  It was a difficult separation for both of us and the attack happened shortly after he’d left.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why? 

I would not want to be my assailant’s mother because of the terrible heartache that was hers regarding her wayward son.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

(Sarah smiles) – It’s the best part and that’s all I’m going to say.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if she decided to write another book with you in it?

I think it would have to be a sequel to THE SILVER LOCKET and I’d recommend she pick up right where this book ends and chronicle the important midlife years of a wife and mother.

Thank you for this interview, Sarah.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

I certainly hope so!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author PhotoA native of Massachusetts, Sophia Bar-Lev divides her time between the Fort Worth, Texas area and Israel.  A former school teacher and adult education lecturer, Bar-Lev now devotes the majority of her time to writing.  Sophia Bar-Lev is also the author of Pasta, Poppy Fields, and Pearls and Pizza and Promises. The Silver Locket is her latest novel.

Connect with the author on the web:

http://www.sophiabarlev.com/

http://www.sophiabarlev.com/#!blog/cnf7

https://www.facebook.com/SophiaBarLevAuthor

////////////////////////////////////////////////

Title:  THE SILVER LOCKET

Genre:  Women’s Fiction

Author:  Sophia Bar-Lev

Website:  www.sophiabarlev.com

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

When The Silver Locket opens, it’s July 1941 in Boston, Massachusetts. War is raging in Europe and the Pacific. But for two young women in a small town in New England waging their own personal battles, the struggle is way too close to home.

When extraordinary circumstances bring these two women together, one decision will alter the course of their lives.  And with that one decision, their lives will be forever changed…and forever intertwined.

Were these two women thrust together by happenstance—or fate?   A tragedy. A decision. A pact. Lives irretrievably changed. A baby girl will grow up in the shadow of a secret that must be kept at all costs. But will this secret ever see the light of day?  And what happens when—or if—a promise made must be broken?

Adopting a child is not for the feint of heart—but neither is being adopted…

A sweeping and suspenseful story that unfolds in a different time and a different place, The Silver Locket explores universal themes that ring true even today. Secrets. Unbreakable bonds. The healing power of love.  Deception. Anguish.  Redemption.

In this touching and tender tale, novelist Sophia Bar-Lev weaves a confident, quietly moving story about adoption, finding hope in the face of hopelessness, and how true love can overcome any obstacle. With its brilliant juxtaposition of the wars fought both on the battlefield and internally, The Silver Locket is a poignant novel, resplendent with drama.  Featuring an exceedingly real and relatable plot, and characters that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, The Silver Locket is a sterling new read.

 

Character Interview: Dana McGarry from Lynn Steward’s literary fiction ‘April Snow’ – Book Two in the Dana McGarry Series

character interviewWe’re thrilled to have you here today Dana McGarry from Lynn Steward’s novel April Snow, Book Two in the Dana McGarry Series. Dana is a thirty year old teen accessories buyer at B. Altman department store, living in New York City, New York.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Dana.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Yes, I was fairly portrayed. Lynn understood that I was stressed and conflicted about my desire to suddenly end my marriage last December when I discovered my husband’s affair, and she helped me work it out with a kind priest, who I met in London, and through dear friendships in New York. I have no regrets. We had many good years and fond memories, but Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]the marriage was beyond repair. Lynn has also experienced challenges at work and she understood how important it was for me to create The English Shop, in the vein of the new women’s department at Brooks Brothers. It’s very frustrating when senior management is set in their ways, not willing to think outside the box: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Lynn had the same problem, people underestimated her, so she did an excellent job painting the two sides of my personality: I am accommodating but at the same time ambitious and determined.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Fortitude and independence. 

Worse trait?

Too intense.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself)   Kristen Bell. 

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Yes. Mark Tepper, president of the Tepper Display Company.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

When I met my boyfriend’s spoiled college age daughter and she was cool to me. 

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

My boss, Helen Kavanagh, the divisional merchandise manager at B. Altman. She was an obstructionist in book one, A Very Good Life, and she’s obstinate in April Snow. She’s only in her late forties, but she’s inflexible and controlling. She resists my suggestions at every turn. I would not want to treat my staff that way and stifle their creativity.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

I am convinced that the right choices were made.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

I would like an exciting career in the fashion industry, more romance, and a handsome and charming soul-mate!

Thank you for this interview, Dana.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Yes you will! There are five volumes in the Dana McGarry series and the synopses for the remaining three are written. Lynn tells me that I will love the English influence and characters in the next book, so I’m looking forward to it! As you will learn if you read April Snow, I’m an Anglophile!

Title: April Snow

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Author: Lynn Steward

Website: www.LynnSteward.com

Publisher: Lynn Steward Publishing

Website/Amazon

At the cutting edge of women’s fashion in the 1970s, a visionary young woman subdues her desire for love to remake retail at New York’s most glamorous department store.

Newly single, Dana McGarry learns she must divorce herself from more than a bad marriage to succeed. Not only must she prove to family and friends that she can make it on her own, but she also must challenge an antagonistic boss who keeps standing in her way. Moving out of her comfort zone and into the arms of a dynamic businessman, Dana bets it all on a daring new move that will advance her buying career, But at what price?

Her dreams within reach, Dana’s world is shattered in a New York minute when a life is threatened, a secret is revealed, and her heart is broken.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lynn Steward photo in library

Lynn Steward is a successful business woman who spent many years in New York City’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the development of the first women’s department at a famous men’s clothing store. Through extensive research, and an intimate knowledge of the period, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies. April Snow is volume two in the Dana McGarry Series. A Very Good Life was published in March 2014.

Interview with Margay Leah Justice, author of ‘The Scent of Humanity’

Margay Leah JusticeDescended from the same bloodline that spawned the likes of James Russell, Amy and Robert Lowell, Margay Leah Justice was fated to be a writer herself from a young age. But even before she knew that there was a name for what she was doing, she knew one thing: She had a deep and unconditional love for the written word. A love that would challenge her in times of need, abandon her in times of distress, and rediscover her in times of hope. Through her writing, Margay has learned to cope with every curve ball life has thrown her, including the challenges of single parenting, the harsh realities of living in a shelter, coping with the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, and the roller coaster ride of dealing with a child who suffers from bipolar disorder. But along the way she has rediscovered the amazing power of words.

Margay currently lives in Massachusetts with her two daughters, two cats, and a myriad of characters who vie for her attention and demand that their own stories be told. In her spare time, she is an avid knitter, knitting her way through a stash of yarn that almost rivals her tbr pile!

Her latest book is the romantic suspense/women’s fiction, The Scent of Humanity.

For More Information

About the Book:

The Scent of Humanity 2Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. In theory. But in one small town, in one family, that theory is put to the test.

Growing up in a rural town in Massachusetts was supposed to be safe, but for SILVIE CHILDS, that safety was shattered by a kidnapping attempt that forever changed her life. Now, nearly twenty years later, that sense of safety is challenged again by the kidnapping attempt on her young niece, and Silvie is left struggling with one question: How can something like this happen twice in one family?

It is a dilemma shared by NICK FAHEY, the detective assigned to the case. Arriving on the scene of the abduction attempt, Nick expects to run a routine investigation. Until he meets the victim, the niece of a woman he once considered a dear friend. Unfortunately, these days Silvie Childs can barely stand the sight of him.

Once there was a time when Silvie Childs worshipped Nick Fahey, believing he could do no wrong. Until the accident that nearly killed her brother; the accident that Nick reportedly caused. Coming on the heels of her own near abduction, the accident skewed Silvie’s ability to trust men – especially Nick. But now, with the attempt on her niece’s safety, Silvie finds herself in the untenable position of having to trust Nick to bring the kidnapper to justice.

That trust is severely tested when, after only two months, the case is closed for lack of new evidence. Feeling betrayed by the system in which she works as a paralegal and by Nick, Silvie takes matters into her own hands. Contacting local news stations to generate interest in the case, allowing herself to be filmed hanging sketches of the suspect on telephone poles, she will risk her own safety to protect that of her niece. When her efforts re-open the wounds of her past, she is once again forced to put her trust in the one man who still has the power to hurt her – Nick

For More Information

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Margay. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

I am actually multi-published. I actually have three books out there now.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

For the first two books, I went the small press route because it was easier than traditionally publishing. With this book, I chose to self-publish.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

I think it was less than a year, so good turn around.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

It felt amazing! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your name on the cover of a book and/or holding the product of all those years of work in your hands. And if I remember correctly, I think I celebrated by buying myself a little present!

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I contacted a lot of blogs to do guest posts for them. A lot of online marketing.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

I’ve learned a lot about story structure and what works best from the editing process, which I employ more consciously now. And I’ve really learned the value of building a name for yourself in this industry.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

I can’t say anything has, really. I am a research nut – I love the whole process of discovering new things – so I did a lot of research about the industry long before I ever got published. So I had a pretty good grasp of it before I was published.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

Having someone tell you they liked your book.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Hone your craft. Research the industry. Know what to expect so there aren’t any surprises. And most important, love what you do. If you don’t love it, neither will anyone else because it’ll show.

Interview with Kaira Rouda: ‘Don’t give up. I published my first novel in my 40s’

Kaira Rouda 2Kaira Rouda is an award-winning and bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her books include: Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs; Here, Home, Hope; All the Difference; In the Mirror; and the short story, A Mother’s Day.  She lives in Southern California with her husband and four children and is at work on her next novel.

Her latest novel is the women’s fiction, In the Mirror.

For More Information

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Kaira Rouda. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

In the Mirror 3Thank you for having me here! I am actually multi-published! My first book was a nonfiction title, Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs. I am thrilled women entrepreneurs are reading and connecting with the book and its message – a message that, ironically, fits well in today’s publishing industry where authors must become entrepreneurs, too.

I followed that work with my first fiction novel, Here, Home, Hope – a story about a mom having a midlife crisis. My next novel, All the Difference, is a romantic suspense novel with a murder mystery and more. In the Mirror is my third novel and it asks the question: If you knew you may die soon, what choices would you make?

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

My first book was mainstream/large publisher, my next was small press and my last two are published by my publishing company, Real You Publishing Group. Authors today have a lot of choices, at least the lucky ones do. I’m proud to be a hybrid author. I have a great literary agent who helps me navigate the process and most importantly, a loyal readership who in most cases doesn’t care who publishes the books as long as more keep arriving on their virtual or real bookshelves. That’s why I believe entrepreneurial authors will continue to asses all of the options available to them – and make choices based on what the market dictates and what the author feels comfortable with. Things are changing quickly, that’s for sure.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

Both of my traditionally published books were 18 months from contract to publication.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

Holding the finished book in your hand for the first time is a surreal experience. I remember, too, walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf, facing out, and it was probably one of the best moments of my life. It’s something I’d always dreamed about – and it came true. A really fun moment was finding my novel at the airport bookstore.

I celebrate each new release by reminding myself how lucky I am to be living the life of my dreams.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I did a huge radio and television tour for my first book. That was daunting. I also spoke at events around the country. For a shy author, this was a big step. I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about all of that!

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

I’ve learned the value of the re-write. Seriously, I hated editing and revision before but I’m starting to embrace the fun of it and it always makes my stories better.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

The supportive writing community is amazing. I am constantly in awe of the generosity of most authors. It’s exciting the support out there. And eventually, those divisive distinctions – Indie vs. Traditional – will disappear and we’ll all hold hands and support each other as an author community. (Seriously, it’s going to happen. And, the New York Times will review more women authors and ….)

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

Writing – and being able to say that’s what I do for a career. It’s awesome!

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Don’t give up. I published my first novel in my 40s. It’s never to late! So get going!

 

Book Review: ‘A Very Good Life’ by Lynn Steward

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]A Very Good Life is the first book in an exciting new series by successful business woman now author Lynn Steward.

In this story, which crosses over from the literary to women’s fiction to romance, Steward takes us to 1970s Manhattan, home of the sophisticated and the elite. There, we meet Dana McGarry.

Dana has everything — a successful job at a prestigious department store, a handsome lawyer husband, a beautiful home, and loving family and friends. But things aren’t always as perfect as they appear to be, aren’t they?

When Dana’s husband begins to drift away, and demands at her job require that she behaves unethically, her world begins to crumble. She finds herself at a crossroads. Will she make the right decisions and stay true to herself and her vision of what a ‘good life’ should be?

This was a wonderful read! It reminded me of novels I read years ago by Barbara Taylor Bradford. Female readers will no doubt empathize with Dana as she struggles to keep her career and marriage together. She is strong, but also caring and sensitive. Readers will also be swept away by the setting. With vivid detail, the author brings Christmas in 1970s New York City alive in all its splendor. I really felt transported in time and place, felt the snowflakes and smelled the holiday trees. The characters are sympathetic and interesting and, of course, the antagonist is just one of those persons the reader will love to hate.

Steward has created a wonderful world of drama in this new series. Book two is supposed to come later this year and I’m really looking forward to reading the new installment. If you love women’s fiction and are a fan of strong female protagonists, I recommend you pick this one up. It won’t disappoint.

Find out more on Amazon.

Visit Lynn Steward’s website.

My review was originally published in Blogcritics.

Character Interview: Dana McGarry from Lynn Steward’s literary fiction novel, A Very Good Life

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]We’re thrilled to have you here today Dana McGarry from Lynn Steward’s debut novel A Very Good Life.  Dana is a twenty-nine year old public relations and special events coordinate at B. Altman department store, living in New York City, New York.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Dana.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers? 

Yes, I was fairly portrayed. Lynn understood the unexpected and sudden challenges in my life, and she gave me the time I needed to work through them.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Lynn had the same problem, people underestimated her, so she did an excellent job painting the two sides of my personality: I am accommodating but at the same time ambitious and determined.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Fortitude and independence.

Worse trait?

Too intense.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?  Kristen Bell.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

My husband, Brett McGarry.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

When I learned my husband took the free-spirited junior litigator from his law firm shopping for a professional wardrobe.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

Janice Conlon, the junior litigator who seduces my husband, Brett.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Sad, but hopeful.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

I want to have a little more fun, be adventurous.

Thank you for this interview, Dana.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Yes you will! Lynn has written the synopses for four more novels in the Dana McGarry Series, and I was told to expect an exciting career in the fashion industry, and a handsome and charming love interest!

AVGL LS in libraryAbout the Author

Lynn Steward is a successful business woman who spent many years in New York City’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the development of the first women’s department at a famous men’s clothing store. Through extensive research, and an intimate knowledge of the period, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies. A Very Good Life is the first in the series featuring Dana McGarry.

About the Book

Although Lynn Steward’s debut novel, A Very Good Life, takes place in 1970s New York City. it has a timelessness to it. Dana McGarry is an “it” girl, living a privileged lifestyle of a well-heeled junior executive at B. Altman, a high end department store. With a storybook husband and a fairytale life, change comes swiftly and unexpectedly. Cracks begin to appear in the perfect facade. Challenged at work by unethical demands, and the growing awareness that her relationship with her distant husband is strained, Dana must deal with the unwanted changes in her life. Can she find her place in the new world where women can have a voice, or will she allow herself to be manipulated into doing things that go against her growing self-confidence?

A Very Good Life chronicles the perils and rewards of Dana’s journey, alongside some of the most legendary women of the twentieth century. From parties at Café des Artistes to the annual Rockefeller Center holiday tree lighting ceremony, from meetings with business icons like Estée Lauder to cocktail receptions with celebrity guests like legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. Steward’s intimate knowledge of the period creates the perfect backdrop for this riveting story about a woman’s quest for self-fulfillment.

Purchase on Amazon.

Book Review: ‘Christmas is in the Air’ by Cary Morgan Frates, Danielle Lee Zwissler, Jennifer Conner, and Karen Hall


Christmas is in the Air Anthology 2

This is the second Christmas romance anthology from Books to Go Now that I have read this month. I loved the first one,Christmas Romance, and this the second one didn’t disappoint. Four talented romance authors, four sweet stories that will warm your heart this holiday season. And just like in the first one, there are dogs in this one, too!

In “Red Soles at Night Christmas Delight,” by Cary Morgan Frates, Audrey Wells is out of her wits when a dog jumps on to the deck of her boat and in the process throws her super expensive Louboutin shoes into the lake. The dog’s handsome owner has no choice but to dive into the freezing cold water to rescue them. Of course, Audrey ends up making sure he doesn’t get pneumonia. In a turn of fate, they end up spending Christmas Day together. A humorous and sexy story.

In “Yuletide Bride,” by Danielle Lee Zwissler, reporter Mary Simms is out on a mission. She wants to prove that the town’s Magic of Christmas Festival, where perfect couples are “matched” for life, is a sham. Will she have the courage to uncover the truth and destroy people’s belief in the tradition, even if it means destroying the happiness of some of the old couples involved? And what about James, the handsome lawyer who asks her not to go ahead with her story, and for whom she’s developing some serious feelings? Will Mary learn to have faith? An original, delightful story with a touch of mystery.

In “Christmas Gift that Keeps Wagging,” by Jennifer Conner, we meet Julian Barrows, a single dad with a kindergarten son who suffers from seizures; and Hannah, the beautiful trainer who specializes in seizure-detecting dogs. Their paths touch when Julian tries to get her dog for his son. The problem is, it’s incredibly expensive. Fate has other plans, and the magic of Christmas works its way into their lives…A heart-warming story with an ending that will pull at your heart strings.

The last story is “One Horse Open Sleigh Race,” by Karen Hall, where we’re transported to 1819 London, and where, after a most unexpected encounter, a wealthy earl and the feisty twin of the new clergyman find true love thanks to a Christmas sleigh race and an adorable “match-making” Scottie. Lovers of historical romance will relish this one.

This anthology has a tantalizing, charming cover. That’s the first thing that pulled me to the book, and it adequately illustrates the inside content. The four stories in this anthology are all about strong yet vulnerable heroines and sensitive, yet forceful heroes; about the spirit of the Christmas season and the magical effect it can sometimes have on people; about the hope and faith for true love and the attainment of that love.

Through the authors’ imaginations, I was transported to different places and times, relishing the characters’ fictional worlds and predicaments. I also love how the authors incorporate humor into their stories, and how the dogs play their important roles. Christmas Is in the Air is an upbeat, thoroughly enjoyable read, and one I’m sure readers of sweet romance stories will enjoy.

Find out more on Books to Go Now and  Amazon.

My review was originally published in Blogcritics Magazine. 

First Chapter Reveal: A List of Offences by Dilruba Z. Ara

A List of OffencesTitle of Book: A LIST OF OFFENCES
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Author: Dilruba Z. Ara
Website: www.dilrubazara.com
Publisher: CreateSpace

PURCHASE A LIST OF OFFENCES HERE

SUMMARY:

Daria, the heroine of the book is born under unusual circumstances that cause the people of her small village to gossip; yet as she grows she becomes an intelligent, sensitive and spiritual beauty that one feels is destined for a perfect life. After a flood, a boy is found on the bank of her river. Daria’s parents adopt the boy, and Daria befriends him. As they grow Daria begins to inhabit Mizan’s dreams and thoughts, but a sudden meeting with anglophile Ali Baba brings everything crashing down around Daria. She forgets her upbringing and falls madly in love with him and after her hasty wedding, she moves to Baba Lodge and is brought into the suffocating life of Ali Baba and his family.

Here she lives a life unloved and psychologically abused until she gets pregnant. Now she begins to hope that finally her potential for love, luck and happiness will be realised through her new-born child. Yet relations between Daria and her in-laws deteriorate further. Daria finds herself torn between the religious mandate of Islam to stay with and obey her husband and the call of her intellect and instincts to flee and forge a different life for her daughter.

FIRST CHAPTER

A Bottle of River Water

A whisper went round the little village of Gulab Ganga during the days around Daria’s birth. It said, “Jharna Begum, Daria’s Ammu, defied God when she refused to give up the thought of having a daughter.” She had her four sons, three miscarriages and one stillborn daughter. But yet she couldn’t accept the idea of not having a daughter in her lap. When the most trusted doctor in the neighbourhood advised her against trying to get pregnant, she, like many in her dilemma, decided to get help from supernatural sources. The road there would be reached by means of a man, who claimed to be a Pir, a spiritual person. He lived on the outskirts of Gulab Ganga. A good many people went to him to catch cattle thieves and poachers, a good many went to get better crops, a good many wished to be cured of some incurable diseases, and a good many wished for a male heir to carry on the family name. And on rare occasions, someone would actually call on him to get a female child; to light up a family with only male offspring. And this was partly true in the case of Jharna Begum, Daria’s Ammu, but mainly it was because she felt half a woman without a daughter.

It was exactly one year before Daria’s birth that Jharna Begum woke up on one occasion at a time that was neither morning nor night; night’s blackness was slowly oozing away at the touch of first light. A soft and transparent time, that could be called morning-night. She washed herself, took a bath, said her morning prayers, read some verses in the holy Quran. Then on an empty stomach, wrapped a shawl round her shoulders, opened the safe and took out a bundle of notes. Some fresh and crisp. Some dirty and limp. She put the money in her bag and sidled out of the room. Azad Chaudhury, her husband, was away on business and that suited her very well, because he wouldn’t have approved of her going to meet a Pir, whose credibility was dubious. The rest of the family was asleep. She took a deep breath, crossed the front veranda and stepped down onto the ground along the left gable of the house. She continued to the stable that was further off in the same direction. There she met the servant boy Gafur and the housemaid Gulabi. She told Gafur to keep guard on the house for an hour. After a moment, she was seated in the coach with Gulabi and the coachman, Abdullah, on her way to the Pir, the saint, who was to serve as a link between her and the supernatural powers.

It was a humid morning. The ground was covered with dew. On the horizon white haze rolled softly, blurring the contours and colours of everything. Beyond that the river sparkled in the first glow of the morning sun and some fishermen cast their nets in it; fishnets shimmered in the air like dewy cobwebs before falling into the water, but the haze blocked the view. The wagon picked its way in between the chequered boards of rice-fields. Sometimes it rattled; sometimes it thudded on the bumpy earthen road. Jharna Begum sat erect, her lips moving. Most probably reciting holy verses. Alongside the road some peasants were already at work. Some bent over the water-covered field to set rice plants, and some ploughed; peasant feet submerged up to the ankles in the muddy water; peasant hands disappearing under the water to transplant rice seedlings.

The Pir (said to be) lived in a small hut on the outskirts of the village. It was made of mud and bamboo canes with a sloping hay roof and stood in the middle of beaten ground surrounded by sprawling bamboo clusters that were partially veiled by the grey mist. From behind the hut an old mango tree spread its branches over the low roof. Haze lingered among the foliage of this tree as well, but just above the roof Jharna Begum could discern some baby mangoes. Grey-green, round and wet, silently growing out of hardness. A skinny hen walked on the patch of ground in front of the hut pecking at whatever it could find; a few dragonflies sat lazily on a tuft of withered grass-straws. A breeze blew, carrying a scent of water and river. The mango leaves hummed. The bamboo leaves whispered. Gulabi remained standing on the spot. Jharna Begum took a deep breath and approached the hut.

The room was murky in spite of the hurricane lamp that hung from the ceiling. Soft shadows danced on the walls as the tongue of the flame flickered inside the soot smeared glass. Major parts of the walls were plastered with various pictures from the holy city of Mecca. High stepping camels and Bedouins, dusty date trees around oases, scalp-shorn-men — pilgrims-in-white, women — pilgrims-in-black, the black holy stone and the white gathering around it. The only window was covered with a drape. In one corner out of a small brass bowl rose a fine stream of smoke; scents of sandalwood, camphor, incense and rose essence. An earthy dampness hung in the room.

The Pir was seated on the floor on a mat. He received Jharna Begum with due respect and asked her to settle down opposite him. She was hesitant; nevertheless she obeyed him as though in a trance. Perspiration gleamed above her lips, studded the tip of her nose, and her forehead. It grew in her armpits and between the fold of her breasts. A sweaty fear crawled down her back and she swallowed a lump of saliva. Words pounded in her head, while her stomach was hard like a tight fist. But she wouldn’t give in to her nervousness. So, gathering up her courage, she began to talk. Her voice trembled, tongue dried out. Words came out of her tense mouth; first staccato and then woven together into meaningful sentences. The man murmured and nodded.

After half an hour when Jharna Begum took the coach home, the sun had risen to a higher level in the sky. It was white. The haze had resolved into a fluttering piece of transparent cloth. She put her chin on the windowsill and looked out. Windblown ringlets danced on her temples. Her eyes saw the pale green rice plants, the mud coloured peasants with their mud coloured feet and hands under the muddy water, the tilting wicker-hats on their heads, the pelvic zone of a cow that lifted its tail to drop some dung, gleaming sun on the tails of diving kingfishers, and the shimmering river beyond; but with her heart she saw a baby girl. A baby girl in her arms. In her hands she held a green bottle. A bottle filled with enchanted water. Water, which would help her to mother a baby girl. Now she just had to ensure that one of her servants collected natural water for her by pressing the brim of an earthen pot against the stream of the river. Seven Thursdays she would bathe in that water eked out with the enchanted water she now had in that tiny green bottle in her hands. Imagine getting a baby girl! To get a baby at such an age! Forty years! God, Allah, the almighty. At such an age one should only wait for death to come. At such an age it was entirely legitimate to die, it was a well-acknowledged die-able age. But instead she was preparing to give life to a new human baby. A baby girl. Jharna Begum felt a mysterious wave of contentment sweeping over her. While the morning breeze, now crisp from the warming sun, fondled her face, she smiled. Like a child who had found the very bottle with the genie. She held the precious bottle tenderly. Azad Chaudhury was, of course, a little bit worried about his wife’s sudden obsession with the matutinal baths on Thursday mornings. But he decided to humour her. And therefore, he even went to bed with her as per her wish after her ritual baths with that magical water. They built and furnished a small room in the furthest end of the dwelling. The rest of the family members were told that Jharna Begum’s physical condition demanded total seclusion from daily life. Initially Azad Chaudhury had thought it would be unnecessary to build a new room only for seven Thursday mornings. But, soon, very soon, he changed his mind. For it didn’t really take him too long to realize that he enjoyed every second, every infinitesimal fraction of each second he spent there together with his wife. In secret they called this room ‘the love nest’ (even though the phrase sounded banal in their experienced ears). Within the four walls of that nest after twenty years of marriage they once again experienced the ecstasy of newly found love.

On those warm, fairy tale like mornings Azad Chaudhury, propped against the pillow, would look at his wife’s slender body and think that he had never seen her like that before. He licked her feet, her soles, her insteps, kissed her on her kneecaps, tickled her belly, felt the perfect curves of her round shoulders against the cups of his large palms, oiled her with coconut oil, and rubbed her gently. Her eyes would darken, the world beyond the dark blue curtain on the window would slowly brighten but inside they would be lost. She touched his hairy stomach, tugged at his nipples, let her nails run up and down across his body hair and create parallel lines like a farmer furrowing a land and leaving plough marks. Both would have gooseflesh on their skin, his Adam’s apple would move restlessly and she would swallow saliva. They would fondle each other, taste each other’s secret smells and drown in each other’s eyes. His warm palms against hers, his fingers intertwining hers, the soles of her feet rubbing gently on the back of his feet they would reach the climax. Later during the course of the day they would recognise each other’s private smells in their nostrils, and they would exchange furtive glances.

Considering all this passionate lovemaking, it was probably not a miracle that Jharna Begum soon got pregnant. But with the realisation both she and Azad Chaudhury reacted as though a miracle really had happened. As though the genie really had escaped from the green bottle to fulfil their dreams. They started to cry and laugh. They cried for a moment, laughed a moment, hugged each other, cried again, licked each other’s tears and lay down. They slept a while, woke for a while, embraced each other, whispered soft words and fell asleep again. When the pregnancy advanced, Azad Chaudhury saw to it that Jharna Begum was not in want of anything. He heaped over her gifts and tenderness and fulfilled all her strange whims, such as those which only suit a

pregnant woman.

If she wished for hot peanuts with salt and pepper, she was served that; if she longed for roasted green mangoes blended with crushed red chillies she was given that too. If she craved for ripened tamarinds those were also procured. One midnight she woke up and declared that she must have grilled Ilsha fish, alias silver fish. Now this fish is famous for its silvery scales, and when it comes to taste, it’s absolutely delicious.

But, unfortunately, it was not the season for this fish. Still, early the following morning Azad Chaudhury himself paid a visit to the nearby fishing community. He held out a leather pouch filled with coins (silvery and golden) and said that the one who was able to catch a couple of Ilsha fish before the next dawn, would be rewarded with the bag and its entire contents. The fish was caught, grilled and served on a silver platter at dinner. The dish so suited Jharna Begum’s taste buds that soon it became a permanent part of the family’s meals during the rest of Jharna Begum’s pregnancy. She was contented, and into the bargain a handful of fishermen got slightly richer than they had bargained for.

The Neighbourhood Talked.

On winter evenings snuggling in homemade quilts the villagers huddled around outdoor fires under the gaze of stars. They smoked hookahs, ate grilled sweet potatoes and whispered tales. Witchy tales. Wintry tales. Tales spiced with the chill of winter evening. Painted with the vibrant colours of the fire and cinders in the middle of them. They fed the fire with reeds and kindling that cracked and died in the flames, and they fedtheir ravenous minds with fabulous tales about Jharna Begum and the baby that was thriving in her belly. Before long it was heard that Jharna Begum was obsessed with the fish dish because the man who had given her the green bottle with the magical water, had proclaimed that she would give birth to a girl with hair the colour of ‘silver fish’. Some said she was carrying a mermaid, half-fish, half-human. Pregnant women avoided the sight of her in fear that the very sight of her might hamper the growth of the babies in their wombs. It was strange how one strange rumour gave birth to another, stranger one. Some even claimed that Jharna Begum really possessed the bottle with a genie. It was, however, poor Gulabi who had to face all these torpedoes of vicious remarks about Jharna Begum’s pregnancy. Whenever she showed herself outside the house boundary she was attacked by the neighbouring women. They relentlessly pestered her with ridiculous questions and soon she started to complain about these gossips. Jharna Begum listened patiently to her. But dismissed her anxiety with hearty laughter. Without appearing to be condescending or angry she completely disregarded the complaints and left Gulabi speechless, and as usual continued to send the servant boy, Gafur, to the fishermen to
get the fish every morning. The fish was prepared and cooked under her supervision. When she ate it, she ate it with such relish that soon Gulabi and others realised that it was no use trying to change her craving.

The four boys — Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi — who were between eight and twelve years old, had not yet the slightest idea why their father no longer took his usual trips to the other parts of the country. He was always at home. Only they continued as usual. They went to school, read the holy Quran every Thursday, did their home-work, played with one another, fought with one another, and when angry, railed on one another. Gulabi saw to it that their nails were clean, hair oiled, hands washed; that they had milk warm from the cow for breakfast, and that
they turned in on time.

Daria was born on a bright day. It was towards the end of May, just before the onset of the rainy season. The time was precisely twelve o’clock. The sun was hot and cruel. The sky was absolutely white and so was the baby girl’s hair. It was white. Silvery white. Alarmingly white. Very white. At the sight of the hair colour, a scream died in the bewildered midwife’s chest and at the same time her bladder gave way, making her thighs wet. The midwife’s face was glistening with tears, but she was struck like a statue, as though fixed by the mesmeric eye of calamity. Kneeling down between Jharna Begum’s legs, she held Daria’s tiny body in her hands, her head bent over it, her hot urine collecting under it, the navel cord still hanging loosely down the vagina of Jharna Begum. The whole thing was something akin to a scene at an altar.

And Gulabi, who had been witnessing the scene with a hurricane lamp poised in mid-air, took a while before she could even begin to grasp the nature of the incident; the stench from the urine smelled old, contaminating, of grief and troubles. Gulabi shuddered and gasped as the true scandal of the incident swam into her consciousness. She stood dumb-founded for fully two minutes before returning to her senses. But, once out of her perplexity, she hastily placed the lamp on a bedside table, bent down, cut the umbilical cord, and snatched Daria out of the midwife’s baffled, rigid hands. It was then Daria gave her first cry, relieving all others, and also shocking the midwife back to reality. Gulabi cleaned Daria thoroughly, even her nostrils, before swaddling
her in a soft piece of cloth to put her to her mother’s nipple, where milk had already started to flow. And the midwife, soiled by her own urine and the refuse from Jharna Begum’s uterus, withdrew to a corner.

Even in those days the dwelling house was two storeyed. The walls were made of bricks and the flat roof of corrugated tin. The rooms stood in a row one after another. Two deep verandas ran along the front and rear side of both stories, and a wooden flight of stairs connected the back veranda to the first floor. A small patch of land separated the main house from the kitchen while on the front was a rather big patch of land. There grew fruit and flowers, papayas, mangoes and jackfruits, bananas and coconuts, tuberoses and jasmines, marigolds and land lotuses. Today the flowers glimmered in the sunshine and it was impossible to avoid the numbing sick-sweet aroma emitted by the sweating jasmine flowers. The mango trees were filled with mango blossoms. The boughs on the jackfruit trees bent under the weight of the fruits. The sugar bananas, very yellow, waited expectantly to be harvested. Hot green leaves sheltered the buzzing bees. Blue bottles
hummed. Crows and jackdaws feasted to fulfilment. It was a hot, humid and fruity atmosphere as in a green house.

The climate in the birth-chamber was somewhat cooler in comparison to that of the outside world. The grey cemented floor and the bare white walls were cool; the room was clinically clean just as a birth-chamber should be. The doors and windows were closed making the room half-shadowy. And to add to its clinical element it smelled of camphor, incense and rose water. Daria’s Nanu (maternal grandmother) Salma Begum and Fufu (paternal aunt) Fatima sat in one corner. They too had temporarily lost their speech at the sight of the baby. But the child’s scream readily brought them back to the present. And both of them began to recite Quranic verses with such gravity that an outsider would easily have mistaken the room to have been designed for mourning. Surely you mourn for the deceased in a hospital room, and you rejoice for the newborns. Today of all days Jharna Begum would have liked to rejoice at her daughter’s arrival, she would have liked to sing the praises of God, she would have liked to extol him boisterously, she would have liked to thank him. But these two women turned the room into a mourning chamber, they made the atmosphere heavy, gloomy. Unnecessarily sad. Was it because of the poor midwife’s mishap? Was that the reason, Jharna Begum wondered?

But it was only an accident. Or, was it because the child’s hair had such a rare colour? Jharna Begum sighed. Strangely enough, she didn’t feel any irritation but a feeling of familiar indifference. She knew that it was no use trying to make others understand her feelings. In the soft light of a hurricane lamp she looked tenderly at her daughter’s swollen cheeks, the closed eyelids, the red mouth and two tiny nostrils. Jharna Begum repeated with a contented voice: water-baby, water-baby. Then she sighed
again.

Having performed the Jummah prayers in the mosque, Azad Chaudhury had just returned home together with the quartet, Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi. It was Gulabi who was waiting anxiously for him on the veranda. She told him about the newborn, took the prayer rug from his hands, and ushered away the boys to a different room. Azad Chaudhury looked very pleased and with a smile on his face he pushed opened the wooden door, and stepped inside. He halted for a few seconds in the semi-darkened room. As his eyes got used to the darkness he greeted his mother-in-law and then turning towards Gulabi said, “Open the window shutters!”

His mother in-law, Salma Begum, stopped murmuring. And so did his sister Fatima. There was a sudden silence. It took a while before Salma Begum shrieked in her frail, shrill voice, “You can’t let midday wind flow freely into a delivery room.”

Azad Chaudhury looked for a while at the old lady. His brown eyes were soft and polite. Without attempting to dispute the old one, he explained.

“Excuse me, Amma. But, I would like to see my daughter’s face in the daylight.” Salma Begum shook her head.

“Enough harm has already been done to the baby.”

“Like what?” Azad Chaudhury was surprised.

“The midwife…” Her words failed, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her son-in-law about the mishap. It embarrassed her. Her fingers clutched at the tasbhi in her hand.

Azad Chaudhury looked at the face of his mother-in-law, who looked beyond him. He then turned to Gulabi.
“What happened? What has the midwife done, Gulabi?”

“Abbaji…” Gulabi hesitated and then said, “nothing to worry about.

I’ve taken care of it. I’ve washed the baby. I’ve even cleaned her nostrils.”

“Nostrils!” Azad Chaudhury was even more puzzled.

“Yes, so that she shouldn’t remember the stench.”

“Stench of what?”

Gulabi was by now already regretting having said too much. She fell quiet. Not knowing how to answer she looked helplessly at Salma Begum.

The old lady shook her head and then said, “You had better ask your wife in private. As for the window, you may open it for a while. But it’s no good for a newborn. Midday wind carries evil spirits.”

Azad Chaudhury nodded thoughtfully, all but satisfied with the riddling answers. But he gave in, and once again asked Gulabi to open the shutters. The two shutters were opened. A sparkling parallelogram of sunlight fell on the floor. White walls became whiter. The cool floor became warmer. Azad Chaudhury took two steps towards the bed. He bent over it. There was suddenly that awkward silence again. Very silent.

Very tense. While the taut silence bounced against the four empty walls, Azad Chaudhury’s pupils widened, his spine hardened.

The child had violet eyes rimmed with black lashes, and she already had a pair of eyebrows shaped like the wings of a soaring gull. Her cheeks were chubby, smooth and fresh like any newborn. Her lips red as ruby. But her hair was silvery white. Ever so white. White like the tops of the Himalayas. Azad Chaudhury could think of nothing to say but murmur prayers. On his shoulders he felt his mother-in-law’s deep breaths, his sister’s attentive eyes. Unfamiliar thoughts were growing like weeds in his brain. He shook his head. Something must have gone wrong. Must have. A child can’t have silver hair. It’s not normal. Why?

Why? A curious sadness settled in his heart for the little creature in his wife’s arms, his little daughter, his little princess, born out of oneiric mornings. His eyes grew moist as he took up the girl and held her close to his heart. His eyes met his wife’s. The sun reflected in her eyes. She smiled.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Very well. Thank you!”

“Are you happy?”

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

He smiled, braving the pressure of the weeds that grew in his brain.

Hairy weeds, itchy weeds, poisonous weeds. All with long tentacles. Frightening. She stretched out her arm. He took it, and squeezed it hard.

Later the same afternoon he sent for Dr Nandi. Dr Nandi was as puzzled as others were at the sight of the child’s hair colour. But having checked the girl thoroughly he declared that it was a child, one hundred percent normal. Meanwhile, Gulabi was ordered to take care of the umbilical cord and the placenta. As instructed she dug everything down in the garden, and set a jasmine plant on the top. Having performed the task quickly, she returned to the room with some mustard oil in a brass bowl, tidied up the bed, spread a large towel in between Jharna Begum and the oilcloth under her, and then climbed up herself on the bed. There, kneeling down beside Jharna Begum, she oiled her palms and got hold of Jharna Begum’s belly. She held it tightly and at the same time with a rhythmical movement began to press out the air that had invaded the cavity from the afterbirth. Air came out of all possible holes in Jharna Begum’s body, while she complained about Gulabi’s hard grip.

Lots of Aaas and Uhuus! But, Gulabi proceeded in the same manner for an hour everyday during a period of exactly forty days. That was the time span taken by Jharna Begum to regain her flat and tight stomach so that no one could any longer believe that this belly had in its time accommodated a number of children.

This hot afternoon, when Dr Nandi had calmed Azad Chaudhury with his diagnosis, Azad Chaudhury sat down for a while and took a few deep breaths. With each breath he uprooted some of the twisting weeds in his brain and finally decided that it was time he demonstrated his gratefulness for being gifted with a daughter. He sent one of the men- servants to buy some rashgullahas, cheese balls drowned in syrup, from the village sweet-stall. When the man returned he ordered him to take the two finest cockerels from the pen and fill an earthen pot with some of the rashgullahas. He collected two sets of clothing and sent all these to the Pir Sahib, who had provided Jharna Begum with the green bottle with enchanted water.

Jharna Begum emerged from the delivery room — it was already evening — with the child in her arms, defying the rest of the women in the family, who advised her to remain there for forty days. They said she shouldn’t leave that room till her bleeding ceased and her uterus shrunk to its original size, the size of a goose egg. But Jharna Begum paid no heed to her concerned relatives. In the kitchen the old cook had already started to prepare chicken soup, an unspiced dish with horned fish and plantains and other so-called delicacies that normally are used to tempt an ill woman in childbed in this part of the world. Inside the room, by the window, Gulabi had prepared an armchair with a soft round pillow with a hole in the middle. It looked like the English letter O. It was supposed to ease Jharna Begum’s sore bottom when she sat there to enjoy her garden. But, as mentioned earlier, the woman didn’t feel at all ‘under the weather’. On the contrary, she felt incredibly fit and well.

Out she would come from that dreary room. Out she would be in the open air. And so she did, amidst protests and knitted eyebrows. Only when she needed to break wind or breast-feed the baby, did she seek out a private corner.

Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi, the four brothers who had missed their mother terribly during the previous nine months, and before that, those seven weeks with the seven special Thursdays, encircled her as soon as she came out of the room. They did not show much interest in the strange creature in their mother’s arms. One of them had a bunch of flowers, one had a ring made of hay straw, the third one had written down a verse from the Quran in black elegant calligraphy, and the fourth one had painted a picture of the setting sun on the river that flowed behind their house. These they presented to their mother.

Hadi, the oldest son, whose voice was breaking, murmured embarrassedly, “Ammu!” and gave her the bunch of flowers.

“Here, you’ve a ring, made by myself,” said the second one.

“It’s boring to sleep without having recited the suras (Quranic verses) with you,” declared the third and stretched out his gift.

“I’ve painted a picture for you,” announced the little one.

Jharna Begum dried a trembling drop of a tear with the back of her hand. Then she gave Daria to Gulabi, and took all her four sons in her arms; she embraced them, fondled them, showered kisses on them, ruffled their hair, crumpled their ironed shirts and murmured tender words.

That evening they all sat on low-legged stools around the low dining table to celebrate this family reunion. Daria was fast asleep in a wicker cradle that hung from the ceiling. The room was lit up with the yellowish light of a hurricane lamp that stood in the centre of the table. An imposing number of insects buzzed around the lamp like a live halo. Around this halo were porcelain bowls, set in a wider circle. They were filled with delicacies like hens in almond sauce, spicy wild duck, ruhufish chops and lobster in coconut milk. There were also various accompaniments like tamarind pickles, coriander chutney and green mangoes. The unusual dishes, which the cook had got used to preparing to gratify Jharna Begum’s pregnant palate, were no longer there. Neither
was the silverfish dish. Truly, none was missed by anyone. A cat circled and purred under the table — its black back arching, its tongue licking its own mouth. Perhaps it missed the familiar fish-smell. Who knows?

Every now and then its furry tail brushed several pairs of knees. The walls were embraced by the shadows here and there and a blend of aromas crowded inside a few pairs of expectant nostrils. Laughter and jovial voices were heard for a long time in that room.

But the following day the mood of the family was subdued. From early in the morning neighbours lined up to congratulate Jharna Begum and also to take a look at the newborn. Even though grandmother Salma Begum and Gulabi made a real effort to conceal the child’s hair by putting a hat on her head, one could yet catch sight of one or two glittering curls that rebelliously crawled out from beneath the edge of the hat, which in its turn brought out plenty of improbable comments from the hearts of the baffled visitors. “By, Allah. It can’t be a human child,” said someone.

“No, an angel,” someone answered, “I wonder if she has wings under the clothes!”

“Did you hear that the midwife wet herself while delivering the poor child?” exclaimed someone else. “Tauba” (a slap on the right cheek; an act that normally accompanies the word to ward off the evil eye).

“Tauba!” (A slap on the left cheek.) “Did you see her hair? It was all silver!”

“Oh, Allah, we knew it.”

“Her mother had conceived her by using paranormal methods.”

“She shouldn’t have defied God’s wish.”

“Didn’t we say it?”

“Poor, poor child!” Much as one avoided explaining the import of these pitiful words, it was all very simple. Such a vile incident at the onset of one’s life could only mean a pitiable life.

A bad sign!

An unlucky child!

Still Jharna Begum held her head high. It seemed she didn’t care what the people were saying. She went on talking, greeting and smiling her radiant smiles. Later, perhaps, she would think about these, but now her face betrayed none of her feelings. One of the maids picked her way through the crowd with a silver tray with a plate of dates and jar of cold lemon sherbet in her hands. The visitors helped themselves, casting furtive glances at the neonate. If they could’ve x-rayed with their eyes they would certainly have penetrated the hat to see the whole head. But this was not the case. They were to see only one or two silvery curls.

Nothing more. During the course of the day they came and went at will.

Like cats.

Azad Chaudhury worried about Jharna Begum’s apparent sedateness and the outcome of it. He admired her patience, but at the same time he again became aware of the growing weeds in his brain; hairy weed, itchy weed, poisonous weed. All his thoughts and feelings were muddled. He looked at his wife, the way she walked, held her head, the baby with silver curls in her arms — everything made him uneasy. He watched people come and go, he watched his daughter, two soft silver curls crawling out from under the pink hat, and suddenly made up his mind to forbid curious neighbours on the premises for a while. Salma Begum prayed silent prayers and Gulabi put a round kajal mark, as big as a pea on the forehead of the child to ward off the evil eye.
During the following few days the rumour spread like vapour; permeating every leak, every crack, making way, touring, detouring to every household of the little village of Gulab Ganga. It said that Jharna Begum had given birth to a silver-haired fairy child. But, unfortunately the midwife had befouled the baby. As the rumour travelled from
mouth to mouth several other embellishments were added to it.

Many incredible qualities were ascribed to Jharna Begum. While some continued avoiding the sight of her as if she were a witch, others began to treat her as a saint and claimed that she could solve their problems, cure their ailments, enrich their harvest etc. Queues were established in front of the gate, children climbed up the high wall and the high trees around it to get a glimpse of the saintly mother and her divine child.

It was a sheer circus; the beggars gathered to get an extra coin, the vendors crowded in the hope of good business, children frisked about,
and the old ones recited verses from the Holy Scripture.

Meanwhile, inside the big walls the little girl grew and transformed into a very ordinary child. Her hair had been shaved off and buried under the jasmine bush together with the umbilical cord. But the stubs of her new hair shifted colour. It grew dark and darker. Black with a luminous shade of purple-blue. Like a raven’s wing in the sun. And the violet of her eyes became coffee brown, dark brown, not quite black.

And by the seventh day, when there was to be a religious ceremony to give her a name, she had turned into a perfectly normal baby girl with perfectly normal features.

It was a Thursday. The Imam was the first to arrive there. With him he had a miniature copy of the holy Quran wrapped in a velvet cover, and a large knife. Polished and sharpened. Two fattened goats had been waiting to be slaughtered by this knife on this day. The Imam performed the task in the name of God in the yard in betweenthe kitchen and dwelling house. The goats were flayed and the good meat was divided into three mounds, the same amount in each. Three meat-mounds: one for the poor ones, one for the relatives and one for the day’s feast. The last mound was prepared on open fire with a fine mixture of spices. Rice was boiled in young green bamboo reeds. Parathas were fried, ducks were grilled, rashgullahas and steamed curd
were purchased.

Two colourful party-tents were set up in the garden; one for the males and one for the females and children. Gas lanterns were hung in the four corners of each tent. One special platform was raised for the Imam to lead the religious part of the occasion. A dozen men milled about hurrying, scurrying and getting things ready. Some set the tables, some arranged the chairs, and some swept the ground.

It was a warm afternoon. Neither torturing hot, nor pressing. Pleasant.

A wind blew.

A warm and nice river-wind.

Gulabi brought the little girl out when the sun had sunk in the west, and the sky was yellowish like water with a dash of turmeric, in the dull glow of its last rays. The baby was dressed in a chalk-white frock and a pair of white socks. Her scalp, which was now bare of hair, was topped with a laced-edged hat. From under the serrated edge of her hat, her two dark eyes looked curiously around. Around her soft neck, hung a garland of garlic cloves.

Gulabi walked past the gathering crowds to hand the girl to Azad Chaudhury. He took the baby, and went up two steps to the Imam who was sitting in the middle of the dais. By then, the guests were divided into two groups according to gender — each standing on either side of the parapet, listening to the Imam. Sitting on the dais, he read aloud a few selected verses from his Quran in the velvet coat, and then proclaimed firmly how very important it was for every Muslim to carry a name denoting his or her religious and ethnic origin. These were all very familiar words to the listeners, but still they couldn’t help but feel the solemnity of the moment as people always do on such occasions. It was all very quiet but for the Imam’s grave voice.

The child in Azad Chaudhury’s arms dozed off, but the function proceeded as planned. All suggested names were painted in different colours on a wicker-tray that was set in front of the Imam. By each name a candle was lit. Above, in the evening sky, the fair moon had become a little brighter by then and the stars shone like tinsel. As the candles melted, everyone made the utmost effort to catch sight of the tray; some stood on tiptoe, some asked the person in front to make a little room, someone else very simply took a chair or a stool and stood on it. They held their breath with eyes fixed on the candles. The twelve candles burnt, wax melted, wicks shrunk, smoke rose. The Imam’s face bent over the tray and took on a reddish tint. Candles began to go out. One after another. Slowly but surely they flickered and died in succession till only one was left. It stood there now dwarfed and fat, but still burning, illuminating the name ‘Daria’.

Jharna Begum’s face shone with delight, caught by the golden moon-dust-light. Long before Daria’s birth, during those magical mornings, she had decided to call her daughter Daria, for the word daria meant river. Daria was a child of the river, a water child. And, her own name, Jharna, meant source, fountain. Jharna, the source. Daria, the river.

Character Interview: Pat Tierney from Rosemary McCracken’s suspense thriller, Black Water, the second book in the Pat Tierney series

We’re thrilled to have you here today, Pat Tierney, from Rosemary McCracken’s new suspense thriller, Black Water. Pat is a 47-year-old financial planner in Toronto, Canada. In Black Water, the second book in the series, she leaves Toronto and heads out to cottage country north of the city.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you for this interview, Pat. Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

BlackWater smallerBlack Water is narrated in the first person, which means that I told my story to Rosemary, and she wrote it down, just as she did with Safe Harbor, the first book in my series. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way! It’s my story and I couldn’t trust anybody to tell it, other than myself. I related the events in Black Water, and how I felt when they were taking place. At times, I was absolutely terrified. At other times, I was uncertain what to do. And I was beside myself with worry when those horrible bikers threatened to take little Tommy from me. I just couldn’t let anything happen to that child.

Do you feel that the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

As I said, Black Water is my story, and I told it exactly the way it happened and presented myself exactly as I am. But Rosemary could have held back a bit and edited certain parts. When you’re telling your own exciting story, you sometimes get carried away and say things that are better left unsaid. Like that phone sex scene with my beau Devon Shaughnessy. Why Rosemary had to keep that in, I certainly don’t know. It didn’t add anything to the story because Devon wasn’t in this book at all. He was hundreds of miles away in Connecticut where he lives.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

I try do give people the benefit of the doubt, and err on the side of generosity even if there is a chance that I may be wrong. In Safe Harbor, I brought Tommy, my late husband’s son, into our family. My daughter, Laura, calls me “the world’s biggest pushover.” And she’s probably right.

Worse trait?

I’m a worrier. I worry about everything, which makes bad situations twice as bad. I worry about them beforehand, and then I have to live through them.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Nicole Kidman. She’s now 45, a little younger than I am, but by the time the movie comes out, we’ll be the same age. She’s very convincing in portraying feisty, strong women. I think she’d do a good job telling my story on screen.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Devon Shaughnessy is the current man in my life, although he doesn’t show up in Black Water—apart from the phone sex scene. But just between the two of us, I don’t think Devon is Mr. Right. But he’s a perfectly acceptable Mr. Right Now.

At what point did you start getting nervous about the way your story was going to turn out?

At one point in Black Water, I was being held by two members of a biker gang. They were convinced that I was involved in a drug operation and wanted me out of the way. Permanently out of the way, if you get my meaning.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

This would be my housekeeper, Farah Alwan. Farah came to Canada from Iraq a few years ago. She’s a romantic young woman, filled with thoughts of finding a rich husband, having a beautiful home and lovely clothes. She’s the kind of woman I am trying to raise my daughters not to be.

But I have to remind myself that Farah comes from a different world. If her family hadn’t had to flee their country, her life would have been very different. Her parents would have arranged a good marriage for her, and that may not happen in Canada. I’ve tried to talk to Farah about going to school and building a career. But, so far, she’s not listening.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

The book ends exactly as my adventures in cottage country did. A killer is unmasked, other bad apples are rounded up, and peace is restored to paradise.

What words of wisdom would you give your author when she writes another book with you in it?

I certainly hope Rosemary will show me the next manuscript before it is published. And that she’ll delete any scenes I tell her to.

Thank you for this interview, Pat. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

I’ve started relating another set of adventures to Rosemary. It will be a while before it’s finished as we both have very busy schedules. It’s also set in cottage country.

————————————————-

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout the Author:

RosemaryMcCracken’s first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012. Its sequel, Black Water, has just been released.

Visit Rosemary’s website at http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/.

Follow Rosemary on http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/. And on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RCMcCracken and on Facebook athttps://www.facebook.com/rosemarymccracken?ref=tn_tnmn

BLACK WATER can be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/Black-Water-Tierney-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00CWF2X8S

Character Interview: Aglaia from The Third Grace by Deb Elkink

We’re thrilled to have here today Aglaia from Deb Elkink’s new women’s fiction, The Third Grace. Aglaia is a 32-year-old  designer at Incognito Costume Shop living in Denver, Colorado.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Aglaia.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Thanks for inviting me here. You can call me Mary Grace, if you find it easier to pronounce than ah-glay-ah. I go by both names now. I used to hate the name my hayseed parents gave me, so the summer I was seventeen, I decided to change it—and myself!—into the personification of grace. Aglaia is the name of a Greek goddess, you know.

As to your question, I think I wasn’t portraying myself very honestly to begin with, rubbing shoulders with influential Dr. Chapman like I was some sort of diva, and ignoring my boss’s careful warnings and my childhood friend’s overtures. But in self-defense, I’d worked hard at erasing my rural past, and—what with this work trip to Paris coming up—the last thing I needed was another reminder about that long-ago affair.

Actually, the author was brutal with me. She forced me to take a look at who I really was and where I was heading. And she caused me a great deal of pain when she flooded me with non-stop memories of that long-ago summer of love and loss.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

What a loaded question! Wouldn’t we all like to come across as something we’re not? My boss put it well when he said, “I spent so many years fearing I’d be discovered for the fraud I really am.” And he’s one of the most genuine people I know! It’s rather ironic that he’s in the business of disguises, isn’t it?

As for myself, I deliberately left the Nebraska farm girl far behind when I moved to Denver, and I’ve been climbing the ladder to success in the posh world of the arts ever since. So when Dr. Chapman—Lou—was up in my apartment that evening sipping wine with me, and my backward mother barged in with the smell of the barnyard and her ridiculous request, I almost choked with embarrassment. I think the author did me a service in the end, though. You see, I wasn’t facing myself. I’d been denying an aspect of my real personality that she insisted on showing me by putting me in some very uncomfortable—albeit exciting—situations.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Definitely my creative imagination! It’s what’s taken me to an international level in artistic accomplishment despite my lack of academic credentials. I was born into a religious environment that looked down on “vain imaginings.” My dad didn’t even like to hear my brother and me sharing our nightmares at the breakfast table, for Pete’s sake, and I had some doozies—not to mention my conscious daydreams! Of course, sewing was valued at home, and early on it became my main outlet for expression. But I harbored a rich inner fantasy life, especially once François entered the picture with his own storytelling, whispering in my ear and filling my heart with a yearning for something more.

Worse trait?

Again, I’d have to say my creative imagination. The flip side of the coin has been that I’ve almost drowned in my reveries, my soul overflowing with emotions and saturated with a dark obsession over mythology, sensuality, and troubling thoughts about God. I mean, with all these voices going on in my soul, who’s to say which one I should listen to, anyway? That’s the question I had to ask myself throughout this novel.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

I think Drew Barrymore would be able to represent the conflict between my two selves, the country girl Mary Grace and the sophisticate Aglaia. Barrymore plays glam with a sort of self-conscious naiveté, doesn’t she? There’s a humility and rootedness about her. Also I think she’d really enjoy the food she’d get to eat in the movie—foie gras and cream sauces and French cheeses and even some good old Mennonite fare that still makes my mouth water! (For all her flaws, Mom’s a fantastic cook.)

Do you have a love interest in the book?

I’ll say, though he’s lived mostly in my mind. I mentioned him already—François, the French exchange student my brother invited to the farm that summer fifteen years ago. Boy, he was a breath of fresh air! All the girls in the village were crazy about him, but he chose me over any of them. I least, I thought so . . . Anyway, that summer ended very badly and I’ve been mourning on several fronts ever since. So I was so thrilled—and anxious—for the chance to actually look him up again.

At what point in the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

Everything was going fine with my life until my mother pushed that Bible onto me. She had the silly idea that I could hunt François down in Paris after all those years and return it to him. Ludicrous! I could have shut her up by just dumping the thing—like I’d burned my own copy back on the farm when I decided to push God out of my life.

But when a museum postcard fell out of that Bible, picturing The Three Graces that François had been so hung up about, and then when I noticed his very own handwriting penciled into the margins of that book—well, I couldn’t resist checking it out. The first two of his phrases, noted right there in Genesis, read, “In the beginning, the gods created” and “Naked and we felt no shame.” Did I blush! I grabbed that book and kept it away from prying eyes until I had time to look through every one of those margins. My suspicions turned out to be right: François had jotted down many snippets that brought to vivid recollection all the seduction of that summer, step by delicious step!

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

Definitely Joel, my brother. He’s dead.

I don’t want to talk about it . . .

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Well, put it this way: I’m satisfied that everything was neatly tied up. I sure was surprised at the turn of events in several of my relationships, though, and can’t say that I’d have written this book the way the author did. I’ll say this in her favor: She did allow me to have a good time in Paris (she loves that city, you know), and she let me take great satisfaction in my craft of costume design (she’s done her fair share of that, as well). Also, if I’d been left to my own devices without the author’s invention, I’d never have figured out the mystery behind the Three Graces!

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

I’d beg her to bring back Eb—I’m talking about Mr. MacAdam, manager of Incognito Costume Shop. That man is so wise, even if he does remind me of a funny little Scottish garden gnome! And I think the author should send me on another exotic trip. I hear she’s writing up another book now with some fascinating foreign destinations!

Thank you for this interview, Aglaia—or, I should say, Mary Grace.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

No, sorry but I’m too busy with my current successes.

When author and city-slicker Deb Elkink fell in love and married an introverted cowboy, she moved from her bright lights to his isolated cattle ranch far off in the prairie grasslands. Still—between learning to pilot a light aircraft, sewing for a costume rental store, and cooking for branding crews of a hundred—Deb graduated with a B.A. in Communications from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN; she also holds an M.A. in Theology (both summa cum laude).

Her award-winning debut novel, THE THIRD GRACE, is set in the contrasting locales of Parisian street and Nebraskan farmyard, and incorporates Greek mythology and aesthetics with the personal search for self. Her writing has been described as “layered and sumptuous,” “compelling,” and “satisfying.”

Visit her website at www.DebElkink.com.

Friend her at Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/deb.elkink.

Pick up your paperback copy of Deb Elkink’s THE THIRD GRACE at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Third-Grace-Deb-Elkink/dp/1937573001/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343080975&sr=8-1&keywords=third+grace+elkink

WINNER OF 2012 BOOK OF YEAR AWARDThe past casts a long shadow — especially when it points to a woman’s first love.

Her name was Mary Grace until she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology — and set the seventeen-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith.

Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia works as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the country bumpkin far behind.

But “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench.

The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.

%d bloggers like this: