Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review Shadow of the Swords by Kamran Pasha

I find the power of the internet to be amazing. Last year due to a guest post on a friend's blog, I learned of the debut novel Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha. I enjoyed reading it, and posted my review on this blog.

A few weeks later, a publicist at Simon and Schuster emailed me and wanted to know if I would be interested in a review copy for another debut novelist. I gave her my mailing address and over the last year I have periodically received novels from different Simon and Schuster publicists, mostly in the historical fiction genre.

Some I have read and blogged about, others I have not.

The most recent book I received was a follow up novel by Kamran Pasha titled
Shadow of the Swords. I remembered from his author notes in Mother of the Believers that he was working on a novel about the Crusades. I would have bought this book on my own, but was delighted when I received a free copy prior to its official publication date.

On the publicity materials was a mention that he was available for interviews. After I finished reading the book, I contacted the publicist to see how I could interview him. I expected that I would be emailing him questions, but I was surprised to learn I could speak with him by phone.

After a few attempts at finding a mutually convenient time, Kamran and I spoke by Skype on the morning his book was released to the public. I owe having that opportunity to the power of the internet.

“(T)he rabbi knew that the marauders had ceased to think in terms of God or religion. They were like men possessed, driven by their own fears of death to kill…It was not about right or wrong, or the well-considered arguments of religious scholars. Terror was its own kind of madness and no reason, no faith, could shine a light into that darkest region of the human soul.” – Kamran Pasha, Shadow of the Swords, p. 239.

That madness is religious zealotry. It does not matter the faith of the zealot, because it is the fear and the fervor that overpowers the mind and allows atrocities to occur in the name of God. One of the most notorious examples of this kind of faith-based zealotry was during the Crusades.

However, the mere mention of that period of history can evoke emotional responses by people today:

Antagonism and defensiveness.

The choosing of sides.

The listing of atrocities perpetrated by Our Enemies that justified the actions by Our Heroes.

This entrenched mindset perpetuates itself in every new generation even though the Crusades began nearly a thousand years ago and those involved in the military campaigns have long ago been reduced to skeletons. The cultural wounds inflicted by these multiple wars between Christians and Muslims continue to cast long shadows over today's international politics.

Kamran Pasha’s new novel,
Shadow of the Swords, was inspired in reaction to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. As an American Muslim, he not only felt devastated by the human tragedy, but he felt an additional burden of knowing that the culprits of those crimes claimed to be acting on behalf of his faith.

He knew the terrorists' beliefs were a perversion of Islam and recognized the attacks would fan the smoldering flames of conflict between Christians and Muslims.

As a lifelong student of history and religion, Pasha wanted to write a story examining the roots of the animosity between Christianity and Islam. He chose the time period of the Third Crusade led by the iconic figures of King Richard the Lionheart on the Christian side and Sultan Saladin on the Muslim side.

Pasha breaks the age-old Good vs. Evil dichotomy by utilizing multiple viewpoints demonstrating that everyone sees themselves as hero in their own life story. Even if they commit atrocities, they will justify their acts under the guise of heroism.

The historical figure of Saladin is revered by Muslims and respected by Christians for his uncommon acts of chivalry, some of which are depicted in this novel. Two examples: sending his own physician to treat King Richard, who was dying from an illness; offering his own horse as a replacement when King Richard’s horse was killed on the battlefield.

Whereas, while King Richard the Lionheart has a legendary mystique about him, enhanced by tales of Robin Hood when he was away on Crusade, the historic figure is less sympathetic. To counterbalance this, Pasha created the character of Sir William Chinon to depict the chivalric ideal to carry the standard for the Christians.

Pasha was not content with just showing the epic scope of the battles led by Saladin and King Richard the Lionheart, he also examines the perspective of Jews in the Levant at the time and their relationship with Muslims and Christians. The historical figure of Maimonides, a rabbi and physician to Saladin, is featured prominently as well as the character of Miriam, an educated and high-spirited Jewish woman. Miriam serves the dramatic function of interacting with both Saladin and King Richard and allows the readers to see them as human beings and not icons of legend.

It is the intersection of the three great faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that gives the novel its strength and heart. To understand where we are going, it is important to know where we came from. There is a lot of commonality in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious traditions, hopefully Shadow of the Swords will help readers focus on those unifying areas more than the differences which divides us.

Edited to add: I had intended on writing a summary of the discussion I had with Kamran. My digital recorder started giving me fits. Modern technology can be a wonderful thing, until it has develops a mind of its own.

I discovered a website that has an online podcast interview of Kamran Pasha discussing Shadow of the Swords. Check it out on .

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Review of Spotlight by John Granger

With the impending media frenzy over the release of the movie Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight saga, I felt it was high time for me to finish my long overdue review on John Granger's book Spotlight: a close-up look at the artistry and meaning of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight saga.

I first discovered John Granger due to his analyses of the Harry Potter series. He has a shrewd and learned eye regarding literature and delves deeper into underlying symbolic meanings better than anyone else I know.

He has now taken his formidable talents and trained them upon the Twilight saga. I had taken my own crack at the series last year with a blog post, trying not to include too many spoilers. My analysis dealt with wish fulfillment regarding romantic partners as well as how traditional vampire lore was subverted as if Stephenie Meyer was squeamish about certain unsavory aspects to the legend and preferred to sanitize things to make her "good vampires" more palatable.

John went much further in his analysis.

He describes how conscience and free choice is the underlying theme of the series. He not only uses his own argument in analyzing the text to come up with that conclusion, but he includes excerpts of interviews with Stephenie Meyer that back up his claim.

Reading John Granger's work is never a passive affair. He challenges your underlying assumptions as well as your intellect. While I do not always agree with all of his points, he makes me consider things I would not otherwise and for that I am grateful.

Granger introduced me to the topic of literary alchemy. He takes what seems like an arcane and trivial subject and demonstrates why it is not only important, but how it triggers an unconscious response in readers.

His writings on this subject have not only helped me recognize these patterns when they appear in literature, but to understand their underlying meaning.

While it is uncertain if Meyer made deliberate choices of including literary alchemy symbolic elements or if they were incidental, Granger explains the impact of these patterns on the narrative.

Granger also spends a lot of time examining the influence of Meyer's faith has on the series. These books may not seem to be the Great American Mormon Novel, but Granger argues that to understand the literary choices used by Meyer, you must first understand how her faith influences her worldview.

One example is Granger's argument regarding the naming of the character Rosalie Hale as being a pointer to Emma Hale Smith, the first wife of the founder of the Mormon Church. He includes other examples of how some seemimgly minor details are instead carefully constructed choices used either to defend or to criticize the history and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints by Stephenie Meyer.

Granger provides an in-depth analysis of the Twilight series and is willing to go beyond mere plot points to understand the scaffolding involved at creating what is widely recognized as being a literary phenomenon. He argues passionately that the success of the Twilight series is not a fluke, but because there is great substance behind the story.

For an ongoing discussion about his thoughts on the Twilight series, you should check out his blog at Forks High School Professor or at his Hogwarts Professor blog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sponsor a Young Writer and Attend a Fabulous Writers Conference for FREE

I am reposting this message on my blog on behalf of my friend Verna Dreisbach. If you live in Northern California or if you know any writers, both young and mature writers, who live in Northern California, please spread the word.

I would love to see this conference be a rousing success.


Dear Colleagues and friends:

As some of you may know already, this summer Capitol City Young Writers will be having a writers conference on JULY 17, from 9:00 - 5:00 p.m. at San Domenico School in Marin Count, CA, which features the keynote speakers, philanthropist/screenwriter, James Redford (Robert Redford's son), Jane Friedman (publisher at Writers Digest), and author of The Last Unicorn (and more) Peter S. Beagle.

I am pleased and honored to be a part of this conference, which was originally intended for middle school and high school pupils only. However, we’ve recently discovered that a number of interested pupils cannot afford the conference fee. Though CCYW would love to sponsor all of those aspiring writers, we are a non-profit. And the purpose of this conference was not only to give young writers an opportunity to meet and learn from these terrific speakers, but also to raise money for scholarships and future activities for them.

Therefore, we have decided to open up the conference to other interested adult writers in this way: Anyone who sponsors a student gets to attend the conference for free, on a first-come, first-serve basis. In other words, for 100 dollars (cost of registration) you get to attend the conference and break-out sessions, have lunch with the speakers, and also allow us to sponsor a high school or middle school child to attend. (All high school and middle school pupils who attend also get a free book)

(If you cannot attend the conference, but would like to sponsor a student, you may purchase a gift registration for another person to attend for 100 dollars, or sponsor a pupil alone for 100 dollars.)

In addition to our three keynotes and the following writers, screenwriters, filmmakers, journalist and other arts professionals will be speaking:

Authors David Corbett, Deborah Grabien, Seth Harwood, Gil Mansergh, and Patricia V. Davis.

San Francisco Chronicle journalist, Leah Garchik

Marin IJ journalist, Vicki Larson

Peabody-winning director, Paul S. Kaufman

Radio show host, Michael Krasny

Literary agents, Peter Beren and Verna Dreisbach

Stanford University acting professor, Kay Andreas

Books Inc. manager, Nick Petrulakis

Song writer for the ‘Jefferson Starship’ (and more), Jeannette Sears

Senior editor of, Huntington Sharp

Litquake organizer and author, Ransom Stephens editor-in-chief, Bob Yehling

California Film Institute Producer of indy film, ‘Touching Home’, Jeromy Zajonc

More information about our speakers is at:

A complete list of break-out session topics will be listed by June 14. Registration information is also available on the same conference page of the Capitol City Young Writers website

I hope I have been able to capture your interest and support for this wonderful organization and conference. It’s the first of its kind, and we hope to make it a success so that it becomes a yearly opportunity for young people.

Please help support this worthy endeavor!

Don’t delay ─ come register for Capitol City Young Writers First Annual Conference at:

Thank you all kindly for your attention,

Verna Dreisbach
President and Founder
Capitol City Young Writers

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: The Widow's Husband by Tamim Ansary

In my last blog post, I embedded video from the keynote address that Tamim Ansary gave to the Redwood Writers Conference in October 2009. During the introduction, I mentioned that he also had an historical novel that covered the ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan by British forces in the 19th century.

Here is my review of that novel:

Good historical fiction transports the reader into another place and time and serves to bring the past back "to life." It allows the reader to understand historical events, that often appear larger than life, to be brought down to a human level through the eyes of a character.

In The Widow's Husband we see life in a small village of Char Bagh in rural Afghanistan in the 19th century. The concerns of family, community, as well as having enough food stores to last through winter is recognizable, even if the names and customs are unusual to our "western" ears. The routine of rural life in Char Bagh is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. Hospitality is extended to the man and it soon becomes apparent that he is not a normal traveler, but is instead a mystic. This holy man attracts pilgrims from miles around. Soon the reputation of Char Bagh is even noticed by the British military who have settled in Kabul which then threatens the peacefulness and stability of the village.

The novel shows how the British colonized Afghanistan: bribery and force.

Attempts by the British to interact with the Afghan people without attempting to understand their customs and traditions led to the inevitable clash depicted in the novel when the people revolted in response to the mistreatment of their women and girls.

The Widow's Husband serves to illuminate events from history and allow us to draw parallels to current events from our own military campaigns and why it is important to be there with the consent of the people.

The novel can be purchased as an ebook from or a trade paperback version is available from the publisher.