Between the Lines: Eavesdropping with Literary Intentions

| May 31, 2013 | 0 Comments
Nazli Ghassemi has embarked on a year-long book tour that includes the biggest event in North American publishing.

Nazli Ghassemi has embarked on a year-long book tour that includes the biggest event in North American publishing.

I was minding my own business—really!—sipping a cappuccino and reading the latest New Yorker at Pappalecco one morning when I became aware of three women chatting at the next table. One of them took out a book with a striking purple and green cover and passed it to the others. When I overheard words like “editor” and “publisher,” my eyes and ears perked up, and I was able to glimpse the title of the book. “Desert Mojito” — hmmm, great title.

I went home and googled it, and there it was, a newly-released first novel by San Diego author Nazli Ghassemi. Eager to find out more about a new local author, I contacted Ghassemi and confessed my eavesdropping. Happily she agreed that my “writerly” curiosity justified my actions, and we made a date to meet (at Pappalecco).

Ghassemi is a dynamic and interesting woman, and getting to know her was a treat. She related the eclectic background and experiences that she brings to her writing. She was born in Iran and has lived in France and Switzerland, New York and Miami. She holds a degree in Biomedical Engineering from UCSD and has worked as a dance instructor, hotel receptionist, businesswoman, translator, simultaneous interpreter, ghostwriter, and, currently, ESL teacher. She wrote “Desert Mojito” while working and living in Dubai.

The best way I can describe “Desert Mojito” is as an exotic and culturally diverse “Sex and the City.” The protagonist, Maya Bibinaz Rostampisheh-Williams, was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin to an American mother and an Iranian father, raised in Iran, and now resides in Dubai, where she sees her job as “living a decent life in this indecent world.” The novel follows Maya and her 30-something friends through a maze of romance, religion, lust, and tradition in an over-the-top city where modernity collides at top speed with the pillars of tradition. One reviewer wrote: “The Middle East . . . funny – who knew?! “Desert Mojito” delivers humor, romance and pounds of sass to the multi-layered quagmire that is the Middle East.”

Ghassemi cites the writing of Tolstoy and Nabakov as her inspiration, but her reading tastes are eclectic, as you can imagine, and global: she mentioned titles by Milan Kundera, Haruki Murakami, Dave Eggers, J.K. Rowling, and others. She didn’t include Jane Austen, but I can envision Maya as a modern-day Elizabeth Bennett, searching for her suitable mate among candidates that include Mark, the American entrepreneur, as her Darcy and the shadowy Paolo as an Italian Wickham. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but the point is that stories dealing with relationships and romance shouldn’t be dismissed. They’re ingrained in our literary lore, and the good ones always have a larger context than meets the eye.

While she’s written what on the surface appears to be a contemporary romp, Ghassemi says that the novel has a greater purpose. She sees it as a vehicle to broaden understanding among diverse peoples, to show how we can respect each other and get along in spite of outward differences. In this vein, her promotional activities include presentations on “Doing Business in the Middle East” in cultural diversity programs for companies like Travelers Insurance.

“My intention for writing the book was to have a humorous and educational book come out of that region,” says Ghassemi, and she underscores this in the epigraph she chose from Maya Angelou: “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try to understand each other, we may even become friends.”

Ghassemi has embarked on a year-long book tour that includes the biggest event in North American publishing, BookExpo America, in New York. She’ll be juggling book promotion with her teaching commitments in San Diego and her writing, another novel in progress. On her return from New York she will be reading, discussing and signing “Desert Mojito” at Warwick’s in La Jolla on June 9 as part of their local author series.

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