Land of Love and Drowning is narrated by the “old wives” of the island. They are the ones who receive and pass on the stories, including this one about the soldiers in New Orleans. An old wives’ tale is generally a label given to a tale thought to come from myth and superstition, and so should be considered with derision. But worse, an old wives’ tale is one that is often considered false in part because it is told by old women.
Born in America to Afghani parents, author Nadia Hashimi grew up hearing her parents’ stories of the thriving Afghanistan they left in the 1970s. But when she finally visited decades later, she found a struggling country that bore little resemblance to their memories—especially in the way women were treated. Because of the increasing restrictions on female freedom, the custom of bacha posh, the practice of dressing a daughter as a son, has become common. Hashimi’s first novel, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, traces that modern tradition back to its possible origin, a time when women dressed as men to guard the king’s harem. Here, the author explains how these two cultural flashpoints inspired her debut.
“There’s a scene in your story that’s unrealistic. The one where your main character’s marriage was arranged so quickly. In those days, matchmaking could take years, especially between old, wealthy families.”
This was the feedback from a family friend who read the manuscript for Three Souls during its early stages of editing. This friend grew up in a very traditional family and had majored in Chinese literature. If my novel’s depiction of Chinese family life in the years before World War II passed her critical judgement, I could breathe a sigh of relief.
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of traveling. A time existed, after I graduated from college, when I taught English in Japan and then backpacked around Asia. I had little money and tended to stay in rooms that cost a few dollars a night. With nothing more than a couple sets of t-shirts and shorts in my backpack, I visited places such as Vietnam, Thailand, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Hong...