Unbowed-A Novel

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Revised 2018

A Multicultural Feminist Action Drama

A shy Arab mother makes an unwitting decision that puts her life in jeopardy and sends her on a journey that, ultimately, impacts the world in profound and unexpected ways

UNBOWED by LESTINE begins with the story of Basma Abseh, 37, a shy, obedient Yemeni mother in an arranged marriage who has never been in love nor felt the stirrings of sensual pleasure, yet she is resigned to her safe routine life in Queens, NY. But one stormy afternoon while waiting at a Queens bus stop with darkening clouds threatening a down pour, a red car pulls up driven by the dangerously handsome, 27 yr. old blond-haired man from the bakery where she buys bread. Against Muslim custom, Basma trustingly accepts a ride home. What follows is both provocative and disturbing. Soon Basma finds herself leading a double life that sets her on a collision course with her fundamentalist family. Surprisingly, her ordeal has transformative powers. When a long buried family secret is finally exposed, a new life beckons. But, will she escape her family?

Set in present day cosmopolitan cities of New York, London and Paris with their burgeoning immigrant populations and spanning other international locales, UNBOWED weaves together three plot lines to illuminate the violent extremes some patriarchal cultures have gone to—to reinforce absolute power over women and girls—and the equally extreme, yet opposite, paths these women embark on to change the game.

Literary in style, this multicultural action drama populated with powerful independent women, is highly cinematic, holds a touch of suspense, is infused with sexuality, speaks out about a woman's personal liberty, and contains heretical theories of religion, patriarchal power & God sprinkled throughout the story.




Plot Evolution

Basma’s personal journey is depicted with fine brushstrokes; incidents like the first time she enters a bakery she’s always wanted to; the first time she commits adultery.  Running parallel to this are the efforts being taken to address women’s issues at the global level, via a UN Women’s Forum and a group of specialized, well-trained women fighters called WILA.”   IndiaBookstore

One day, in the middle of writing the first draft, a scene popped into my head.  The characters, setting and dialogue had nothing to do with my current story, so I quickly typed it out in script format and saved it. 

Months later, I was typing out what was to be the final chapters of the story, when a voice inside my head said, “You remember that scene of a woman telling a man ‘I’m going back in’?   Add it here.”  Trustingly, I reviewed the scene and began typing.  Instantly, a whole new storyline flowed complete with back story and an entirely new, interesting (to me), main character: Zafeera Hasni.   At the time, I could see no relationship between her and my central story.  But then, as is quite common to us writers, the central story of Basma began ‘dictating’ a new pathway for itself…a new thread.   Then sure enough, I saw where the two seemingly disparate story threads fit together and through that merging both would be enhanced and the theme elevated.  

Behind The Veil

“The book is certainly well researched… the happenings in the story are firmly grounded in current events.” 


Because I was writing about cultures, traditions and events I’d never experienced– like most novelists– I did extensive research: read numerous library books; screened many documentaries** on the subject matter at Women Make Movies, and later, while getting a filmmaking degree I interviewed fellow Muslim female students.

In the past fifteen years–with an increase of immigrants from the Middle East, Northern African and Southeast Asia– women and girls wearing various forms of ‘hijab’ have become more common in The West, along with the ensuing controversy. Through my heroine, Basma, I examined the issue: to veil or not to veil, along with female sexuality and personal liberty in restricted cultures, as an organic process. I related to my characters because they each represented aspects of my own female psyche and because they are human.

Basma, my heroine’s journey innately follows that of the hero’s journey, along with those unavoidable archetypes: the messenger, the allies, and the dark cave.

*Click on the WILA page to view some of those documentary shorts, and to get more info about feature documentaries and informative books.

Connecting The Dots

“I read the work and thought it  was wonderful….I kept saying to myself, she had to have lived in this region…her voice is so authentic.” Marva Allen, Owner, Hueman Bookstore

In my travels to India and Greece, and in long discussions with Indian, and orthodox Jewish women friends and acquaintances, I realized that the same religious fundamentalist attitudes toward women can be found in Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jewish and various Hasidic sects.   I discovered that violence toward women and girls, specifically, has increased over the decades, takes on many forms, and transcends cultural, national and even ideological boundaries—but has one origin. The character of Dr. Neelam Sethi lays it all out. 

I also learned how rich the history and culture of the Middle East truly is; how it informs European history and culture, so I infused a little of the cultural traditions of my characters into the story.  Women are the nurturers in families everywhere–especially through the food.   Food has the power to seduce and unite.  In UNBOWED, food does both.