Born in Iran, educated in England, resident of the U.S.A. – Tessa Afshar has a truly global perspective that makes itself felt in her writing. Her latest novel Harvest Of Rubies tells the story of the prophet Nehemiah’s cousin a multi-lingual, genius mathematician. Her name is Sarah and, since she’s a woman, nobody seems to care…
Q: WHAT INSPIRED HARVEST OF RUBIES?
When I first began writing my debut novel, Pearl in the Sand, I had envisioned writing three biblical books based on the symbol of “walls.” I intended to write Harvest of Rubies against the backdrop of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. But as I began to write, my main character, Sarah, Nehemiah’s fictional cousin, took on a life of her own. She was such a funny but poignant personality that I felt her destiny deserved extra attention. I recognized that Sarah’s story needed to be told first before tackling the fate of Jerusalem. As a result, the story will be followed with a sequel, Harvest of Gold, where Sarah and her new husband will travel with Nehemiah to Jerusalem.
Q: ALTHOUGH YOUR BOOK IS FICTION – WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF ELEMENTS IN THE BOOK THAT CAME FROM REAL LIFE?
The Persian Empire was an administrative as well as a military giant. They kept triplicate records of every royal transaction, often in two or three languages, and could access their archives with astounding accuracy. (I can’t even find my files from last year.) In such a world, scribes played a central role. To cast Sarah in the role of the Queen of Persia’s Senior Scribe was not as unlikely as it may sound. While there is no evidence of female scribes working in the Persian court, there is substantial documentation supporting the role of women as scribes in ancient Mesopotamia.
This was a lush, fascinating and mysterious world. Persian women were free to own and manage property. They traveled and hunted in the company of men. Royal princesses could ride, and some were proficient at the use of the bow and arrow. Aristocratic men wore high heels, perfume, and bejeweled clothes. The Greeks thought them effeminate because they wore long sleeves and trousers, a fashion statement that the Western world now finds perfectly reasonable. They also were the fastest riders in their world and their skill with a bow was legendry.
I had fun portraying some of the details of this world. For example, one of my characters, Shushan, has a fake eye. I based this on a recent discovery by Persian archeologist of a body from around this period who had been buried, sporting a fake eye.
Q: WHEN MAKING UP STORIES, HOW MUCH DO YOU DRAW ON YOUR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCES AND PEOPLE YOU KNOW, VERSUS DRAWING ON RESEARCH ABOUT COMPLETE STRANGERS?
A small part of me is reflected in most of my main characters. But ultimately I have to portray them based on their life experiences, not mine. So they emerge as a unique blending of the product of my research and my own life lessons.
Q: WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
Currently, I am working on the sequel to Harvest of Rubies. There are more intrigues to solve, adventures to survive, and love to find for Sarah and Darius in Harvest of Gold. The rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem has a special significance for Sarah and Darius’s marriage.
Q: FACT VS. FICTION – WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME EXAMPLES IN YOUR NOVEL WHERE YOU TOOK SOME LIBERTIES WITH THE FACTS?
I don’t know if Nehemiah really had a second cousin, or if her name was Sarah. I imagine not! That was certainly a liberty, which I hope Nehemiah will pardon. According to tradition, he had red hair, but I don’t know this for certain. I use both Jewish and Christian tradition to portray his personality, which is both fiery and caring.
I have taken many other liberties, no doubt; the best way to detect them is to read the story!