For most of humanity’s history, family has been the cultural cornerstone of a society and the primary support system for the individual. Yet, right now, there are places in the world where women and girls aren’t safe within their own families—places where women live in perpetual fear; where conceiving a female child is a curse on the family; and sexual pleasure for women is considered indecent. Imagine what it’s like for the protagonist of UNBOWED, Yemen born, Basma Abseh, who is from a culture that kills their women and girls for any perceived taint on the family.
Never had he heard a woman criticize, let alone denigrate the very tenets that not only had governed his entire family for centuries, but had given him the fortitude, the dignity to continue his own life. How else could he have survived all those seconds, minutes, hours, years after blowing his beloved sister’s brains out? -Lestine, UNBOWED.--UNBOWED excerpt
The story illuminates the role patriarchy has played in women’s personal and sexual expression. With erotica, violence, forbidden love, an Algerian-woman-action-figure; a multicultural cast of Arab, Hindu, Black, White, Asian and Israeli women all working together (see WILA.com Link), and a lot of action scenes with guns and explosives involving empowered women, UNBOWED brings ‘gender’ terrorism front and center.
In 1999, I read a N.Y. Times cover story entitled ‘Arab Honor’s Price: A Woman’s Blood’ by Douglas Jehl, which began with the story of a woman who was hunted down and murdered by her brother because she shamed the family by running off and marrying the man she loved but they hadn’t approved of.
The article explained how in some parts of the world, a women’s chastity is everybody’s business; that a family’s reputation can be destroyed based on how the females of the family are perceived; and the only remedy for a disgraced family is to ‘kill the offending woman or girl’.
Some countries like Jordan or even in England, now, women are housed in jail cells to protect them from their vengeful, unforgiving families. I realized for the first time, there were place in the world that did not share the same value of life and family I’d been raised to believe in.
The article went on to highlight several cases that were shocking, bewildering and eye-opening for me. As a writer, I pondered what it must be like to feel unsafe within your own family with nowhere to run for protection or never to experience affectionate touch—or simply not being loved or trusted because you were a girl child—and that this had cultural or, possibly, religious roots. In the time it took me to get up from my desk, the Universe literally downloaded in pure cinematic form part one and most of part two of UNBOWED, into my head!
However, it took three years to get the story out of my head and into a 200 page screenplay (yes, that’s long), and another six years before the first draft of the novel was started—as suggested by one of my screenwriting professors, Michael Nolan.
Also, during this time, practices like female genital mutilation and infanticide came into my awareness. I became attuned to any news story or documentary film that focused on these issues as well.
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.
5- Stars…Blown Away by Unbowed!
Your story is a worthy one, your depiction authentic and your passion contagious…Joan Marlow Golan
Very, very exciting and alive read that keeps you glued to the pages. I was sorry to finish this book. What a free and high-soaring spirit wrote these pages! Can’t wait for the next book from this author. The humanity (and inhumanity) portrayed in these pages is first-league story-weaving artifact that—if understood properly—will definitely Raise Consciousness of the reader.
Making a film of these adrenaline and serotonin driven pages would be a luscious ground upon which directors and actors can munch for anything they wish: juicy plot, entangled action, socio-drama, psychological depth, tragedy, myth and old-cultures-link. Transformation and transcendence…Total Wild Run and Liberation!!
-Tony Adzinikolov, composer, documentary filmmaker, NY
Behind the Veil
(Above is a photo of young women reading the UNBOWED promo card at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 2014.)
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.
“The book is certainly well researched…”
the happenings in the story are firmly grounded in current events.”
Connecting the dots
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.