Using fiction to realize a new mental architecture.
The Woman Who Read Too Much is set in 19th-century Persia (now Iran) and is built in part on the life of a historical figure, the revolutionary female poets Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn. Am I right to think that you came to the idea of this novel initially through learning about her?
The general outlines of this story have been familiar to me since childhood. Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn was my ideal, the “heroine” I learned about growing up in a Baha’i family; she was the first woman to embrace the revolutionary teachings of the Bab, who was the prophet herald of the Baha’i Faith. An erudite scholar, a theologian as well as a poet, Tahirih understood, from her reading of the Quran, that religion, like all other human institutions, has a life cycle; Islam was in need not merely of reform but of renewal. This belief, based on the teachings of Ali Muhammad the Bab, pitched her into a headlong battle with the clerics of her generation, a struggle that is still raging in Islamic countries today.
I learned all this from history; her ideas and her ideals are well documented. But I discovered much later, as an adult, how little I actually knew about her as a woman, how little I could trust about what people have written of her life. It was because there were so many contradictions surrounding this woman that I came to the idea of writing a novel: it was precisely in order to contain all the contradictions and the paradoxes she symbolizes, that I chose fiction.