Monday, September 6, 2010
Must I Remember
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in the following formats:
ebook CD and in paperback.
Describe yourself as a hero or a heroine and why would you describe yourself
When did you start writing?
I think it was grade 8 that I wrote my first novelette “When the Sour Turned to Sweet”. It was a quest novel and I don’t remember the content, but I still have it in a box somewhere.
What made you write your book and why?
I wrote “Must I Remember” for my student Zohreh Rostami. I thought that by writing the story of what happened to her and her family, it might help them achieve justice for the grievous human rights violations they have encountered.
Who is your inspiration?
At this stage of my life, my inspiration is drawn from the good people around me like Gina, my publisher, Tina our publicist, and Sherri my co-Editorial Director. I also derive a great deal of inspiration from Peter, the mentor and magician I am apprenticing under. He is taking me to a whole new level and plane of awareness and it is always exciting going to the next level.
How did you feel when you XoXo Publishing contracted you?
I was delighted and my delight only grew when my publisher Gina turned out to share my concern for human rights. We discovered as we went along that we had so much in common that it became more of a partnership than an author-publisher relationship. We have served and helped each other in a variety of ways and I will be eternally grateful for the sisterly role she has assumed in guiding my destiny.
Are you writing anything new and if so what are you writing now?
I am always working on multiple projects. I am still amassing research material for a book called “Shakespeare’s Codex”, in which I try to set the record straight on a variety of historical issues, not least the truth about Shakespeare. I am also beginning work on turning one of my screenplays into a 3-D film. I have the technology in my own home and am working on this project with my housemate.
Do you listen to music when you're writing and if so which kind?
Not really. I need full concentration and music is frankly far too distracting. I love music and it draws away my attention too much and distracts me from my writing. I prefer 100% concentration and focus on the task at hand and shut out all external noise when writing.
What advice would you give a new writer breaking out into the writing field?
The experience is different for everyone, so there are no platitudes that I can apply to a budding writer. It would have to be case specific. If I could see an apprentice might benefit from a particular piece of advice, I would offer it. In the main, I can only say “To thine own self be true.”
What promotional advice would you give a new author and why?
Get cracking or crack up. I have learned the hard way that you can’t just rely on talent and hope the world will take care of the rest. Social networking, joining clubs and associations and getting your name around is part of the game. As much as I abhor opportunism, if approached in the right spirit, self-promotion can be a quite sincere enterprise.
Give us a glimpse of what you are thinking right now?
I am engaged in an alchemical project to transform my life, work and home environment. I have been heavily influenced by the book “Morning of the Magician” and alchemy is a subject I take very seriously. I am also deeply interested in astrology and astronomy. In the end, I am finding that the pursuit of knowledge is leading to an alchemical metamorphosis of consciousness and body. I cannot like Francis Bacon say that “All knowledge is my province,” but what I can say is that I am on the road. It is a long and winding road and after a painful series of detours, I think I can begin to say that I am getting back on the straight and narrow.
"Straw boats to borrow arrows" is a proverb based on a legend about a Chinese
military strategist, an adviser to a general. The narrative style of this novel
is influenced by the legend. According to the fable, the general asked his
adviser to produce one hundred thousand arrows for his army in advance of a
military offensive across the Yangtze River. Rather than decline what the
general considered a mission impossible, the adviser agreed to the challenge.
Not only did he promise to deliver the arrows, but insisted it could be done in
only three days. He vowed to deliver one hundred thousand arrows within
seventy-two hours or face certain death if he failed. He launched his boats just
outside the enemy's naval yards. The enemy, unable to see clearly through the
fog, resorted to firing volleys of arrows to prevent an attack. With the
eventual break of dawn approaching, the adviser called in the boats bristling
with one hundred thousand plus arrows, all donations of a badly outwitted enemy.
In this novel about an Afghani refugee family, there are several straw men
dispatched in several narrative boats. The story is told by a central
protagonist, who breaks off her narrative to allow her mother and brother to
tell their sides of the story. And each one of them tells stories about Mr.
Rostami as well, who died at the hands of the Taliban. What makes this story of
terror unique is the telling of it. With so many straw men telling their sides
of the story, it is impossible to establish a definitive narrator of the novel.
Fire might be drawn, but by whom? It seems like there would be a lot of wasted
Must I Remember is based on the Rostami family's epic journey to find a new
home. In one of the most touching and poignant scenes from the novel, Mrs.
Rostami successfully treats an Afghani girl whose face has been cruelly and
barbarously marred in an acid attack by the Mujahideen. Mrs. Rostami recounts:
'One day, when our unit was visiting Haradt, a woman came to me. They
know the day and the hour of our visits and wait on us with greater veneration
than devotees of a holy man. She had been waiting all day in anticipation of our
arrival. She approached and for some reason chose me above the other nurses in
"Please madam," the woman pleaded. "I have a daughter at home that needs you."
"What is her affliction? Why do you not bring her here?"
"It is because of her affliction that I do not bring her," she
"It must be serious if she is bedridden and unable to make the journey."
"It is serious, very serious but not in the way you imagine. There are
afflictions of the mind that are greater than those of the body, psychological
afflictions that leave people damaged for life with no hope of a cure."
"Is she schizophrenic then?"
"No, something far more serious; she has lost her face."
"Was it an acid attack?"
"Yes, they have attacked many women in our village in such ways."
"Can you not bring her here? I have many war casualties to attend to."
"Please ma'am, she cannot leave the house. She is too ashamed to be seen in
"I understand, but I can't attend to her now. She will have to wait
until I am done treating the soldiers."
"I understand," said the woman. "When can you come?"
"It will be late tonight, around midnight. I will treat her as best I
can, but I cannot stay all night. I must be back to treat the new round of
casualties brought in from the front."
"Thank you so much," the lady gushed. "I am so grateful to you. You
cannot imagine what it means to us, to her. To free her even for a moment from
the weight of misery she lives under is worth any effort."
"I will be there," I promised. "Write your address down for me and I
will come as soon as I am able."
'I took the miniboose to the location written on the paper. It was a
tiny house down a narrow lane, a wisp of smoke rising out of the chimney
silhouetted against the moonlit sky. It was a full moon that night. The
Buddhists say that God is both empty and full. That night he was full. The moon
revealed his full countenance, blessing the young woman with no face. Truly
Allah is Merciful. He dispenses his mercies to those in need. The nurse who had
come to give a young girl back her face was guided by the light of a full moon.
The face of the moon was full, while hers was hidden behind a dark cloud. The
healing light of the moonbeams would strengthen the effect of the antiseptic
crème. With any luck, the young woman would have her face back before the new
'I knocked on a flimsy wooden door half-rotten with age. There was a
racket within as if last minute preparations were being made to welcome an
esteemed guest. I could hear the sound of a sliding bolt and the door opened a
crack. The face of the woman I had met that day appeared in the crack of the
door. I could see only half a face. Perhaps all of us have lost face in one way
or another. Living under a tyrannical regime, who is not made to feel like they
have something to hide? Do we not in that instance have to live a double life,
in which we reveal only half of our true face while the other remains hidden?
When she saw that she had nothing to hide, she showed her face.
'I have seen prostitutes in my travels and girls who work in nightclubs and bars
after hours. They tell their families they have respectable jobs their family
would approve of like a manicurist or a beautician. In reality, they are their
own manicurist and beautician. They often apply the eye makeup and lip gloss in
transit because they cannot prepare their makeup at home. Were their families to
see them making themselves up or leaving the house so painted, they would grow
suspicious. Some overly protective parents might even feel compelled to follow
them or send some neighbor as a spy to report back on their comings and goings.
Of course it is natural for parents to care for their children and to protect
them from harm. It is even forgivable in some senses to be overprotective and
guard one's children overzealously, but it is not the way.
There comes an age when one must trust one's child to do the right thing and to
be understanding and forgiving when they do the wrong thing. To fail in this
duty is not love and I for one do not intend to fail my children in this regard.
I will stand by them through thick in thin and will forgive them their follies
and their trespasses as I hope Allah has forgiven mine. Some have called this
unconditional love. I do not care what you call it. I call it duty. I will not
fail my children as a loving mother and they can come to me with whatever
problem they might have and I will be there. I brought them into this world and
I am certainly going to make sure they have safe passage through it.
'I entered the house and saw three generations of smiles before me.
There was an elderly couple, presumably the grandparents, displaying smiles of
welcome. There were the parents with expectant smiles full of promise and hope.
And there were the grateful smiles of the grandchildren, who knew I had come to
heal their aunt so that she could smile again too.
'Then I saw her, Sophia, the woman who had lost face. She held a veil
over her face so that all that was visible beneath were her eyes. They say that
the eyes reveal what is within. If that is so than there was a consciousness
within that contained the entire expanse of the universe. She had dazzling eyes
of emerald green with spirals of hazel. Emerging galaxies were swirling within a
cosmic soup. Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, was revealed in those eyes and so
the girl was aptly named as her incarnation.
'Socrates saw himself as a midwife who gave birth to wisdom in others.
This young woman, who once embodied the very face of wisdom, was now hiding her
face. Tonight, I was to be a new kind of midwife. I would have to give birth to
a new face, a new kind of beauty. I would have to convince the young woman to
free herself from attachments, to bid farewell to her old face in order to
welcome the new one. Could she accept the fact that she would never get her old
face back? Could she live with the fact that she would never look the same
"Thank you for coming, Momma," the girl whispered shyly.
"It is my pleasure to help those in need," I replied. "Now let's have a look at
you. Is there somewhere private where we can take a look at you?"
"There is my room, Momma," Sophia suggested. "Can we go there?"
"Of course we can, my dear. You would feel more comfortable there, is
"I would, momma, yes. It has been my room all my life. I feel secure
there. It is a comfort to withdraw there when the world gets to be too much."
"I understand. When the affairs of the world overwhelm us, we retreat to the
comfort of our beds, where we can curl up in the fetal position and return to
the safety of the womb. I am sure there is no greater place of solace in the
"Follow me, Momma. My room is on the second floor. You will have more
"Is your room well lit?" I asked.
"Not really," she replied. "Perhaps we should bring an extra lamp."
"Yes, please do, someone," I said turning to the others, with the
urgency of a command. "I will need plenty of illumination. If I am to have any
hope of success, I will need plenty of light."
'There was a flurry of activity, with the sound of cupboards opening and
closing, closets and cubbyholes being rifled through, accompanying the sounds of
the creaking stairs and floorboards that led to Sophia's room. Someone with a
consumptive cough was hacking away in a far room. The owner of the cough got up
and we could hear the sound of bedsprings creaking as we entered Sophia's room.
The owner of the cough sounded male and he came down the hallway, the creaking
floorboard announcing his every footfall. The coughing continued unabated.
"Who is coughing?" I asked.
"My grandfather," Sophia replied.
"It does not sound good," I observed. "Has he been to a doctor?"
"He has, Momma, but there is nothing to be done."
"What did the doctor say he had? Is it tuberculosis?"
"No Mamma, grandfather is a smoker."
"I thought I met your grandfather downstairs."
"This is my paternal grandfather, Momma."
"So it is a smoker's cough. You're sure?"
"I don't know, Momma. He doesn't say much. He is not very communicative. I go in
to greet him in the morning. He smiles when I kiss him on the cheek, but he
doesn't say much. I have no idea what he's thinking or what's bothering him."
"I will see him before I go," I declared. "But first, we must see to
Just then Sophia's mother came in with a lantern for extra light. Sophia had a
vanity with a large mirror. I would be able to examine her face with the aid of
the lantern and the mirror would amplify the amount of light. We had all that we
"Sophia, I am going to ask you to be brave now and remove the veil. I
can't help you unless you show me."
'She did not hesitate. She knew I was right. She willingly complied.
She drew the veil aside and showed me what she had been hiding. My eyes filled
with tears. I couldn't help it. One side of her face revealed so angelic a face
it elevated her to the status of the gods. Had she owned that face when she
attained womanhood, she would be sought out by every artist in the land to
honour her with works destined for immortality merely on account of their
'But then there was the other half. Disfigured almost beyond recognition by the
cruel action of the acid, the left side of her face appeared wizened and
misshapen like an old hag of one hundred years who had seen better days. The
young beauty had been aged before her time, the acid doing what the hot desert
sun and the blistering heat would take three-quarters of a lifetime to
accomplish. It is amazing how sickness and injury can accelerate time just as
good health and exercise can slow it down. I was reminded of the haunting beauty
of the Afghani woman on the cover of Life Magazine, made so famous by the
ghostly appearance of her eyes. We saw what the ravages of time did to that
young beauty in less than twenty years, when the next photo op captured the face
of an old woman.
'What could I do to reverse the ravages of the premature aging process
that had so disfigured the young woman of angelic beauty? How could I restore
the left side of her face? How could I retain any vestige of her former beauty
armed with only an antiseptic crème? It would be easier to disfigure the right
side of her face to have any hope of achieving symmetry. It would take a miracle
in this case to save face.
"Sophia, I'll be honest with you," I soothed gently. "I don't know if I can help
'Tears welled up in her eyes at this cruel pronouncement. How I wished I had a
magic wand, healing potion, elixir of youth or restorative that would reclaim
the territory won by the ravages of premature aging. How I wished I had some
magic formula in my bag of tricks that I could pull out and assuage the girl's
broken heart with. Yes, that too needed mending now that I had deflated her
"Don't give up hope, Sophia," I urged. "I just don't want you to be
unrealistic, that's all. I will do my best to help you, but you must follow my
instructions to the letter, is that understood?"
"Yes, Momma," she replied. "I trust you. I know you have a kind and
gentle heart and that you are moved by the afflictions of others and do
everything in your power to heal them, body and soul."
"You are right, my dear. I do indeed. And I will do the same for you. I will use
everything in my power to heal the damage done by the cruel hand of fate."
"Momma, excuse me. I am going to disagree with you there. It is not fate that
caused this to happen. It is not my karma. I did nothing to deserve this
malicious act in this or any other life. I do not believe in bad karma, fate,
destiny or any of these absurd metaphysical notions. I am a good student of
religion and philosophy and if I was alive in the day to hold debates with
Avicenna, Ghazzali, or Suhrawardi, I would rail against the role of fate in
determining the course of our lives. There are accidents, Momma. Astrologers may
tell me that everything that happens to me is encoded in the stars, but I still
insist that there are accidents that befall man that are not determined by fate
or written in the stars. There is no rationale under heaven to explain what
happened to me. Some angry and misguided human beings, whose hearts were bent
and twisted by their own unfortunate accidents, ran at me with a container of
acid and disfigured me for life. I am not expecting you to repair what cannot be
fixed. I am asking you to help me at least be presentable enough to show my face
in public. I have already said goodbye to the old face, to the old me. I just
want to welcome the new me into the house. She is already knocking on the door."
'I broke down. I couldn't help it. Sophia's words touched my heart as no words
ever had. Her bravery in her loss of face was of so noble and valiant a nature
that I could see clearly why she was born with an angel's face. Her speech
roused within me a determination and a resolve I had never known. If she could
be brave enough to accept her loss of face, I would be brave enough to restore
it. With supernatural zeal, I set about the task of restoring the young girl's
face to its former beauty. I came every day to apply the crème as only I could
do it. I did not trust anyone but myself to administer and massage it in to her
delicate face. Years of practice had given me a deft hand and a sure touch. We
did not use any bandages, but only gauze, as I would have to return daily to see
what improvements had taken place, if any, and to apply additional crème. If
lack of sleep weakened me so that I could not perform my duties to the best of
my ability the next day, I could not help it. I was not about to abandon this
flower in full bloom who had had the desert ravage her young petals so. I would
see to it that the searing heat of the cruel desert was removed from her gentle
face so that the angelic countenance of her former self could shine through once
more with greater glory than she had ever known.
About this book Anya Tennyson Wrote:
This is incredibly touching and compelling, and I greatly enjoyed the
presentation style - makes it very personal, drawn into the story immediately.
Also compelling - telling 'the other side of the story'. I so rarely come across
anything like this... probably because I avoid such things altogether because I
have a nephew in the Marines who was there. Thankfully he's home safe and sound,
but not untouched by his time there.
Is this based on a true story? Sorry if I missed that - I remember seeing it on
the XOXO site and was intrigued because I love military stories in general - but
life derailed me a bit from taking a closer look until you posted this here. Now
that I've read this excerpt, I can see it's not a military story, probably a
good thing, but a story beyond the mere telling of events - not sure what to
call it - but I love the introspective journeys of life changing events. They
can be very moving, opening new ideas, ways of thinking, even just understanding
cultures so different from our own... which I think we need to do more of. It's
easy to hate the political entity but every such entity is made up of
individuals who just want to be able to live life without fear, without hunger,
THANK YOU ANYA, FOR YOUR KIND WORDS!
Must I Remember
bestselling book is now available on line: