The Birth of a Book by Guest Author Naseem Rakha

naseem_portraitWe’re excited to welcome Naseem Rakha to the ball. Her debut novel The Crying Tree came out July 7th, and has been selected for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Autumn series.

One day before my novel – The Crying Tree – was born, I was home washing windows, planting flowers, sweeping, dusting. In other words, I was nesting: doing everything I could to get things in order before my baby would be born. But unlike my son’s birth, once out, the book would be on its own.

I remember how strange it felt when The Crying Tree first started making its rounds to publishers. The dance I had done with my characters, the lives I had drawn, touched, massaged, cried and made love with was suddenly being held by people I did not know in places I would never see. I consider writing an intimate act. There is you, your paper, and an imaginary world scattered with bits and pieces of your psyche, beliefs, fears, prejudices, influences and experiences. Suddenly, all that was being both literally and figuratively peddled around Manhattan. I felt exposed and vulnerable, and utterly excited. Kind of like an exhibitionist – with a mask.

cryingtreeAll writers want their work read, and I’m no different. I had very specific goals while writing The Crying Tree. I wanted the book to move people. I wanted it to get people to talk, yell, cry if need be. I wanted the characters to worm their way off of the page and into hearts and minds. And, I wanted to pose very specific questions – what would happen if a mother of a murdered child forgave the killer? And what happens to the executor if he doesn’t want to do his job? These questions had been running through my mind ever since I covered my first execution. I was a political reporter for public radio and the assignment gave me access to people, places and scenes I had never witnessed nor listened to before. It made me ask myself significant questions about the efficacy and effectiveness of our justice system. And, it made me wonder about the people that capital punishment affects. Not just death row inmates, but victim survivors, prison staff, and the outside public that, whether they admit it or not, are a party to an act of killing.

But more than anything, I wanted to look at this mysterious gift called forgiveness, and write something that would get people to ask themselves if they had the capacity to relinquish their own feelings of hate and anger. I must be honest, I oppose the death penalty. I see it as divisive, expensive, counterproductive, and inhumane. Still, if faced with the murder of a loved one, I don’t know if my rationale would stand up to my rage. I wanted to write a book that made me confront this inconsistency, and force me to look more deeply into the capacity of my own heart.

What I didn’t consider while writing The Crying Tree, is the responsibility this kind of story carries. Already, I have begun to receive letters from people telling me about their own experiences with loss. They tell me about the pain they have felt, the bitterness and angst. How years would go by in a blur of hate. How family members went to their death angry and vengeful. And then some tell me the other stories, the ones of the redemption and peace that came from forgiveness. Each letter, or in some cases grocery aisle talk, sidewalk chat, or even phone call, has moved me in ways I can not describe, and most assuredly in ways I had never anticipated while sitting in my house quietly dancing with my characters.

So as I cleaned, I thought of those things – the responsibility, the fear, the hope, the dreams I had for my book. The Crying Tree came into the world this week, and I know it is a precocious child—prodding people to think and ask questions. And, like any expectant mom, I am both exhilarated and a bit overwhelmed.

Naseem Rakha, July 6, 2009

8 Replies to “The Birth of a Book by Guest Author Naseem Rakha”

  1. Naseem, thanks for being our guest. This story sounds beautiful and necessary. I know what you mean about responsibility. I don’t think my novel is as ambitious as yours, but already a woman told me that she scheduled a long-delayed mammogram because of a scene in my novel. It is a responsibility. Your childbirth analogy is apt, as well! May your baby succeed beyond your dreams.

  2. Congratulations on your book launch! I think the themes you discuss are so crucial and relevant… it really does seem like the kind of book that can change people’s thinking and lives.

    Thank you so much for being our guest today!

  3. Ms. Rakha finds the death penalty “divisive, expensive, counterproductive, and inhumane.”

    Many public policy debates are divisive. Obviously, that is not reason to end that policy.

    Many public policy issues are expensive, that’s is no reason to end many of them.

    The death penalty is not counterproductive, nor is it inhumane.

    “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”

    “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”

    The Death Penalty: Not a Human Rights Violation

    Cost Savings: The Death Penalty

  4. Dudley, Thank you for your opinion, and I would just like to make it clear to all our readers that it is YOUR opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the sentiments of all of the Debs or their readers. Thank your for reading, however, and participating.

  5. The death penalty, by its very nature, is very controversial. I wanted to write a book that examined different perspectives of this issue, and how murder and its aftermath effected a specific family.

    I did not write The Crying Tree to try to convince people of a point of view. I wrote to so that I could better understand how it is possible for people to forgive the unforgivable. If others learn something about themselves and their beliefs in the process — so much the better.

    I appreciate that people will always differ in their opinion on a variety of subjects, and appreciate it when people can express those opinions in ways that further the conversation and everyones learning.

  6. I love the theme of forgiveness in your book, Naseem. It’s incredibly powerful to forgive someone (as opposed to holding on to your anger and letting someone else control you). Thanks for being our guest and I wish you the best of luck with your book.

Comments are closed.