Book: NEW Cemetery of Dreams (October 2010) by S. Mostofi
I was not sure Cemetery of Dreams by S. Mostofi would make it to the Travelers’ Library, because I’ve had bad results with self-published books. However, this historical thriller was a pleasant surprise. It covers in fictional form the fairly recent events during President Jimmy Carter’s term when the United States tried (and failed) to rescue diplomats held hostage by the Iranian Revolutionary government.
The book is complex, as were the events, but the characters are compelling individuals rather than stereotypes. We see the events of that year from the point of view of Iranians and what was going on in Iran . This inside view makes clear the political differences within Iran in a way that was new to me. Along the way we are introduced to the wide variety of cultures and society within Iran.
I turned to Mostofi’s web page to learn more about how the book was structured. While there is some information in the book, and more on the web page, I still wanted to talk to her. Here are some of the answers she e-mailed to my questions.
A Traveler’s Library: Do you worry that writing this book (and your blog) will make it difficult for you to travel to Iran in the future?
Sasha Mostofi: Cemetery of Dreams is fiction but it’s inspired by true stories from personal experience as well as years of research and provides a pretty accurate description of post revolutionary Iran. Many of my relatives, some who were officers in the Shah’s military were executed without fair trials immediately after the revolution. Their stories clearly have had an impact on me while growing up in Iran. However, I never intended to make any sort of political statement with this book.
My blog also highlights ordinary everyday Iranians. I think in the sensationalism of Western media we sometimes forget that Iran is a very diverse country; ethnically, linguistically, religiously and even culturally. .. But sometimes people tend to put everybody from that region in the same category, which I think is a mistake.
It is important that our government (U.S.) works with the people of that region to fight extremism. I also like to highlight the unsung everyday Iranian heroes in Iran and around the world, who take action to have a positive impact on their country. I like to celebrate them because I know of the risks they’re taking. In some way I’m doing that with my novel as well since I’m portraying Iranian characters who take action to make a difference.
I don’t think the straightforward way I have portrayed the human rights violations, many of which are close to reality and continue to this day, will be simply ignored by the Iranian authorities.
I don’t think it’s safe or wise for me to visit Iran right now.
ATL: Your characters have a deep love of country. Even though you were young when you left, do you still feel that Iran is your country?
SM: I spent the first 16 years of my life in Iran and despite the fact that I experienced the Iran-Iraq war and dealt with the strict Islamic rules imposed by the government, I did have a good childhood and loving family and friends, so I do have a strong attachment to Iran. But the United States is now my home and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I love both countries.
ATL: I’m not sure why the commercial publishers would not be interested in this book. What’s your theory?
SM: Greenleaf Book Group (and/or Emerald Book Company) doesn’t consider itself a self-publishing house. Having a technical background I find it refreshing that there are so many different options nowadays to get your story out. What Greenleaf offers is more of a hybrid model, where they are very selective in taking on authors and provide a sales team and traditional distribution to brick-and-mortar bookstores, which is something that is missing with self-publishing houses. But you as an author take the financial risk and subsequently receive a higher royalty per book, all of which were fine by me.
Traditional publishing houses also seem to be more focused on publishing memoirs by Iranian authors. Many of these memoirs are important, specifically those that are by authors who have left Iran recently and deal with human rights violations. However,…You pick one up and you feel that you have already read that book by another writer. … they are choosing either very nostalgic flowery novels which younger generation Iranians can’t relate to (or at least I can’t) or memoirs that are written by female authors.
…I like to write thrillers or espionage fiction. .. I think traditional publishers didn’t want to take the risk with an unknown type of book. I received very good feedback on how impressed editors were with my writing but they couldn’t imagine who would ever read this book.
ATL: Your book cover says you started to write this story when you were fourteen and still in Iran. That certainly qualifies you as a “born writer”. If you have not formally studied writing, what or who has influenced your writing the most?
SM: I sometimes think that it takes a level of insanity to write because the rewards are so small in comparison to the effort. My uncle was actually a pretty well known writer in Iran and I guess writing is in my blood. I do have a minor in English but I don’t think that any course or training got me to this point. It was my obsession that did it. A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t written. I’ve always just hoped that readers will enjoy what I have to write and it hasn’t all been pointless.
My biggest idol as a child was Alexandre Dumas. I was impressed by how he combined history with fiction to convey a story. I learned more about French history from his novels than I ever did from a history book.
Once I came to the United States, I became fascinated with thrillers. I’m a fan of several different thriller writers and love action movies such as the Bourne Series. John le Carré is one of my current favorites.
ATL:Why should the readers of A Traveler’s Library want to travel to Iran some day?
SM: Despite all the negative news we hear about Iran, Iranian people are extremely hospitable and friendly. An American who recently visited Iran said that the first question most Iranians asked him was “Do you really think we’re terrorists?”
I think your travelers will be surprised about how modern the country is and how much the Iranian people like Americans.
You can contact the author through her Facebook page, or chat with her on Twitter. If you want to learn more about Iran today, the blog on her website is a valuable reference. The photo at the top is from Flickr under Creative Commons license. You can click on the picture to learn more about the Pavillion, and about the photographer.
And how about you? Would you like to go to Iran? What would have to happen to make that possible? What have you read about Iran?