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Interview with longlisted author Azadeh Moaveni

Interview with longlisted author Azadeh Moaveni

Azadeh Moaveni discusses the effects of the rise of ISIS, specifically on women and children, in her longlisted book Guest House for Young Widows.

What does it feel like to be longlisted?

It’s wonderful. I feel honoured to have my book included alongside such impressive work by writers I admire. 

What inspired you to write this book?

The rise of ISIS was a political trauma that obsessed the media, indelibly affected the lives of Muslims in the West, and recast the political dynamics of the Middle East. It was an extraordinarily complicated story that I felt had not been told adequately, and I felt compelled to redress that, to offer up an account that was personal and empathetic, and that might humanise all the women and children whose fate we must still contend with. 

How did you research? 

I sought out dozens of people across multiple countries, and pursued the individuals that, over time, I was able to persuade to trust and spend time with me. I pored over social media archives, lingered with women’s relatives and friends, and saturated myself in the neighbourhoods and milieus relevant to each character. 

What do you hope people will learn from your accounts of the women in Guest House for Young Widows?  

That what we call extremism is often humans resorting to violence to secure aspirations that are just and understandable, when other means are blocked. That our policies and wars in the Middle East will snake their way back and hurt us. That feminism has other guises, some of them orthodox and illiberal. That it is not wrong to feel revulsion and lack of sympathy for people whose actions we can't understand, but that societies ultimately need to deal legally with the returnees and children of ISIS, in line with their democratic values, in order not to sow the seed of future conflict.

What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo transfixed me when I first read it, and I found myself returning to it often the last few years. It lifts narrative non-fiction to a whole different level of storytelling, and seduces the reader as powerfully as any work of fiction might. 

What are you working on next?  

A spy novel with a female protagonist!

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