Hello, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
This is my first time I’ve been to Edinburgh Book festival and it’s wonderful! This evening I’ve had the chance to talk with Kader Abdolah who has published 10 novels and I have just published my first novel called “The Saffron Kitchen” and its part based in London and part based in Iran. It follows the life of a woman Maryam Mazar, who grows up in Iran and gets forced away from her home by her father and then has a life in London, England. Later on something happens in her life which propels her back to Iran and back to her past. It’s very much a story about identity and about exile and how your try and reconcile different places, past and present.
When did you start writing?
I’ve always wanted to write from about the age of seven I’ve been sort of sitting at the kitchen table trying to scribble down stories and it just took me from that will to want to write and a few years to get round to it. About three years ago I got onto a job where I had more time for writing and I also did a short course with Hanif Kureshi over about 6 weeks which was really wonderful. The story I wanted to tell surfaced during that time. I had a writing partner who I wrote with for 2 years and this was whilst I had more or less a full-time job. So that was the process of writing, I suppose it is a story that I’ve always wanted to tell. I’ve grown up with these two cultures being my one culture and that’s very much the story in the book how these 2 worlds co-exist and how they also fragment and where the conflicts are.
What’s your background?
I grew up outside London in a very conventional suburban home with an Iranian mum and English dad. As I was growing up before the revolution in Iran we used to go there more or less every summer. For a month or so, so I have very vivid memories, childhood memories of Iran and waking up in Mashad and just everyday life so before the revolution we had many visitors from Iran. So it was a very live connection then after the revolution that sort of stymied a little. I suppose and then in the last 10 years or so I’ve been back several times both to Mashad, Isfahan and Tehran and to the villages in the North East of the country and the novel was mainly based in Mashad and the village which is very much a farming community. So that the Iranian bit of my background and other bits are quite conventionally English. I went to university in the UK I’ve always been interested in international relations and different cultures and how they collide and how they can reconcile and those cultures might be different countries or different types of organisations that don’t understand each other so business and civil society. I’ve worked for a variety of businesses and consultancies very much looking at these issues where business and the rest of the world comes into conflict. Why does that happen? How can that change?. Which I suppose is similar to the themes in the book.
In the event you both talked about being Interpreters, which I found interesting?
I suppose an interpreter is a bridge and my book starts with a terrible accident on a bridge. I realised as times gone by, in the book bridges play a very important metaphor. Having a mother whose first tongue isn’t English and whose primary cultural experience is other; as a child growing up you are mediating in many ways. I think I spent a lot of my life finishing my mothers’ sentences for her; which means that you’re are forever anticipating and understanding somebody, who is struggling to express themselves in English. So I suppose to that extent were I help to mediate for her. In the book it is very much about how you do bridge those two places.
You also talked during the event about loss and exile, but not necessarily about moving countries.
I think that we talk about exile a lot and quite rightly and about the struggle for people to integrate into new cultures and yet to maintain their strong sense of identify regarding the culture they come from and that’s an immense challenge for any individual but also regardless of people that have change country. That we all our lives go through different countries and we are all probably in exile from some world. It may not be a world where we can get a passport for but that these feelings of longing for a place I don’t think are peculiar for people who live across countries and cultural divides.
Okay some easy questions; is it your first time in Edinburgh?
It’s my second time in Edinburgh very fond memories the last time I came to the Edinburgh festival was probably when I was a student about 15 years ago. I can’t believe it’s that long but tomorrow I am looking forward to visiting some of the places I visited then. I think it’s a wonderful city and I hope it won’t be as long till the next time.
When did your book get published?
It was published in May.
How have you felt seeing your book in print?
That’s difficult; obviously it’s wonderful it was something I always hoped to do. In some ways the only thing I hoped to do more than anything else it has been satisfying, intensely nerve racking and quite frightening but I wouldn’t change a thing but it has enabled me to take a year off from my job so I am trying to write another book at the moment which is good and yeah I feel lucky.
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* Interview conducted during the 2006 Edinburgh International Book Festival, (4/5).