Publishers' Preview: Diverse Books Spotlight: Five Questions for Tahereh Mafi

This interview originally appeared in the May/June 2021 Horn Book Magazine as part of the Publishers’ Previews: Diverse Books Spotlight, an advertising supplement that allows participating publishers a chance to each highlight a book from its current list. They choose the books; we ask the questions.

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Romantic love is An Emotion of Great Delight to be sure, but in Shadi’s case it is accompanied by the difficulties of friendship and life as a Muslim American in the aftermath of 9/11.

1. What is your advice for navigating a deep but complicated friendship?

I think it’s paramount, in any relationship, to recognize and protect your own inherent value. I’ve found I much prefer the quiet of my own company, for example, to the mutable comforts offered by a careless friend. Shared history seems to me a frail reason to excuse harmful behaviors.

2. You’ve written both fantasy and realism. Which is the bigger stretch?

For me, writing realism is a deceptively simpler effort, at once easier and profoundly more difficult than writing fantasy. I write realistic fiction quickly, but the unburdening of words onto the page is quite painful. I imagine it’s not unlike a knife wound: swift and excruciating. Scarring.

3. What love story was your favorite at seventeen?

Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

4. Without giving anything away, why did you decide to end the novel where you did?

Shadi, the main character, is always trying to escape the force of water — the rain, her tears — and by the end of the book she is submerged in this metaphor completely. It was the finish of many major emotional movements in the story, and the beginning of several new ones. The story ends with acceptance, renewal, and hope. It felt appropriate.

5. Is wearing hijab in America any easier in 2021 than it was in 2003?

Those post-9/11 years were, without question, stunningly difficult to navigate, but there was at least a veneer of decency slid overtop the darkness then. I remember a time when it was considered shameful to be overtly, publicly, unapologetically bigoted. I’m sorry to say that as a visibly Muslim woman I’ve feared a great deal more for my life — and the lives of my loved ones — in the last five years than I did in 2003.

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Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton
Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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