The House That War Minister Built: Q&A Part 2

November 25, 2010 1 Comment

Q: War Minister takes place over such a long period of time – some eighty years, if I calculate right, and involves a host of characters. Were you intimidated at the magnitude of such an undertaking?

A: (Elahe) Not really. A hundred years is not very much to Iran. Persian history going back 2500 years is clear and present in the modern Iranian consciousness – as much as George Washington is in the American consciousness. Our biggest problem was to keep the length down.

A: (Andrew) Yes. I was intimidated. But I’m obsessed with the struggles of successive generations to cope with the legacies of their forbears, and the cultural weight of such an extensive history resonated with me, so I forged ahead. Understandably, the story involved more than the usual number of characters, which posed the problem of keeping the reader from feeling intimidated, but this problem really never materialized. There are a lot of characters, but the book consists of five basically separate – but interwoven –  stories. Each story has it’s own unique cast plus several central characters whose presence spans the novel and ties the stories into a coherent narrative. It might be hard if you read 3 pages at a time on the subway – rather than each chapter straight through – but that can be said of almost anything.

Q: I was intrigued by the range of literary styles you used in different chapters. What led you to choose that?

A: (Andrew) As I said, this was always intended to be a novel about Iran, not just a novel set in Iran. And some sides of the culture were just better presented by different styles – you might even call them different genre types, though, unlike some of the genres they mimic, they are all character driven. For instance, there’s a chapter – “Blind Justice,” if you remember – about a very nervous, elderly Saeed returning to Iran many years after having fled Khomeini’s revolution. The plot structure is dominated by cloak and dagger developments. This not only resonates with Saeed’s fears about returning to the legal morass of post-revolutionary Iran, but accurately captures the Iranian proclivity for paranoia. Honestly, they trade conspiracy theories the way we trade sports scores…

A: (Elahe) Of course, the west calls it paranoia. Americans haven’t experienced thousands of years of being attacked and dominated by a series of foreign powers, from Alexander the Great to the Mongols to a slew of modern powers. When you have that history, you take nothing for granted…

(Andrew) And we tried to capture that, the real intrigues throughout the book, and the comparative simplicity of the west, particularly in the last chapter…

(Elahe)… and despite those thousands of years of strife we managed to keep the culture intact, through the arts – and through adapting.

(Andrew) If I can go back to the question about a range of styles: Iranian humor, like the British, has its farcical side, so, in the chapter about the foolish lawyer (Javad) we relied heavily on farce. Another absolutely charming side to Iranian culture is poetry: Poetry is to Persians as opera is to Italians. Iranians also recite poetry to one another the way we recite sports scores. The last chapter, which I have to admit I still find the most moving, relies heavily on Persian poetry, as Pari tries to come to grips with her life and embraces her cultural heritage with a Sufi-like spirituality.

for a continuation, please go to Part 3

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