Part of the fun of being a critic (I have a column at The Boston Globe and at Dame Magazine, and I review for People) is that you get to dip your literary nose into a whole wide variety of books that you might never have experienced on your own. And part of the fun of being a novelist-slash-screenwriter (but not until after the strike)-slash-writing instructor-slash-editor, is that a lot of time I get to see books before they go out to agents or before they find their rightful homes with publishers. I know the writing and publishing process is so hard—and I always want to champion the books I have loved, so I’ve decided to now occasionally do that here. And while I would never and could never ethically review a book by someone I know or am friends with for the above places (and that includes that person's agent and editor) here in this blog is a little different. And yes, there will be full disclosure in my blog. If I am friends with the person or the editor or the agent, I will reveal it.
The Women’s Verses by Linda Lafferty, which is just now making the rounds of publishing and is agented by Kimberly Witherspoon and David Forrer at InkWell Management, came to me first for a blurb. I didn't know Linda. I wasn’t sure I was going to read it because I don’t really read historical dramas. I don’t expect to like or even love them.
But I did.
I got twenty pages into this novel before I was intoxicated. It’s part Scherezade story and part dazzling historical drama, and truly like nothing I’ve read before. This book just tugged me into this strange, vivid and intoxicating world of the Ottoman Empire and a real life heroine, Esma Sultan, who could be the first feminist of the Islamic world. This was a woman who had her own harem –and a drowning guard to dispatch the lovers she grew tired of. A story of role reversals in the early 19th century, set against one of the most repressive eras of all, including the struggle between the Christian and the Islamic world, The Women’s Verses was so richly intelligent, and so original, that it really did what I want all the books I read to do—it kept me entranced in its world, and it made me keep thinking about Esma long after I shut the page. These characters are so intelligent, so multilayered and so alive, that reading was a kind of hypnotic enchantment. (By way of a fun fact, Linda Lafferty was tutor to the Royal Family of Spain!)