The House That War Minister Built: Q&A Part 1

November 24, 2010 1 Comment

I recently had a chance to sit down with the Daytons at their country home on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland and discuss with them how they came to write The House That War Minister Built. I give you a summary of the highlights, below.

Dan Fleuris

Q: Well, I’ll start with the obvious question: what led you to write War Minister?

A: (Andrew) If I can answer first: Elahe and I met in 1976, and for thirty-four years now, she and her family – particularly her late father – have regaled me with exotic tales from Iran – many of the tales involving her own ancestors, many not. They were wonderful stories: wealthy princes who would wander the palace halls tossing gold coins to children and servants; oppressive theocrats sending child warriors to die in the Iraq war as human mine sweepers; wives plotting in the harem; foreign interventionists playing “the great game;” foolish mullahs; star crossed lovers; Qajar Shahs who shot miscreants from cannons…”

Q: “Alive?”

A: “Well, they were before they fired the cannon – The stories were endless, and endlessly entertaining. So I just had to capture them. And in doing so I sought to write a novel not “set in Iran,” which is an easy trap to fall into, but about Iran – because a culture’s stories are what really define it. As a writer, you have to believe that.

A: (Elahe) I felt there was a great opportunity for a description of Iranian life and culture that was  richer than what is currently out there. I wanted to see some fiction that just accepted Iran for what it is – the good and the bad.

Q: Did you know where you wanted to go when you started writing the book?

A; (Andrew) Yes and no: I knew I wanted the end to be in the beginning, or at least foreshadowed in it. We both agreed upon the character of Nargess (which would translate as “Narcissia,” loosely inspired by one of Elahe’s grandmothers, who did live to the age of one hundred and eight, and whose life just spanned parts of three centuries. So the first chapter was fairly clear. Each of the five or six stories required considerable thinking at each of their respective beginnings, but in each case, it wasn’t long before the characters were writing the story on their own.

A: (Elahe) My main concern was cultural accuracy – particularly the characters. It’s often hard to appreciate cultural differences. Much of what seems daunting or oppressive in another culture isn’t any worse than one’s own mores. I think Azar Nafisi’s work has been good about this. At our web site,, we list a lot of published material that gives insight into Iran, probably the best of which is The Garden of the Brave in War, by Terrence O’Donnell.

for a continuation, go to Part 2

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