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 then 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.
In 1999, I read a N.Y. Times cover article 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.
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
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. 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.
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.
UNBOWED is beautifully written
UNBOWED is beautifully written, mesmerizing, and the characters are so well- crafted. Lestine captures the mind, the heart and definitely the soul of women.She’s a gifted writer and her debut novel, UNBOWED, is a must-read.
– Rev. Ileane Ellsworth
Healer, Theater Director, Yogi
A Powerful Novel
A powerful novel that speaks out about ‘honor killings’ of women…This book is a page turner with a forbidden love story. The enitre book makes a statement on the woman’s right to choose. It will challenge what you think marriage and relationships are about.
– Mzuri Moyo
Award-Winning Playwright, Singer
Very Exciting and Alive Read
Very exciting and alive read that keeps you glued to the pages. Juicy plot, entangled action, socio-drama, psychological depth, tragedy, myth, and old-cultures links transformation and transcendence.
– Tony Nikolov