We all know and love Sabaa Tahir for her An ember in the ashes quartet. She recently released her first contemporary album All my Rage and it’s an absolutely beautiful story. The novel took 15 years to complete. and we are sure the story will stay with us for at least 15 years. We have the honor of talking with her today.
Sal struggles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him — and Juniper — forever. When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must wonder what friendship is worth – and what it takes to defeat the monsters of their past and those in their midst.
Elizabeth Bishop’s An art figure largely in All my rage. When did you first hear about this poem?
I encountered this poem when I was 13 years old. My older brother had just given me “The Writer’s Home Companion” as a birthday present, and one of the essays in the book is about editing and how this poem specifically came to life over several drafts. It taught me a lot about rewriting, but also gave me a lifelong love of the poem. I am truly grateful to have obtained permission from the rights holder to share this love in this book.
Why did you decide to include so many in All my rage?
As I get older, I return to this poem again and again as a source of comfort and a way to understand loss. Its meaning has changed for me throughout my life, just as its meaning changes for characters as they grow. ALL MY RAGE. Incorporating it was a way for me to chronicle this growth and change, and also to honor a poem that meant so much to me and so many others.
Many teenagers are often angry with the world. How do you think All my rage can help them with their rage?
Teenagers are certainly not the only ones in this regard. Many adults are also angry with the world. Me included. I do not know if All my rageis really to help someone unless they want and need it. I think it exists simply as testimony. It is the proof of a testimony. “Your rage is seen. Your pain is visible. It is attested. Beyond that, the book is what its readers make of it. For some, it’s just a story. For others, it’s much more.
Forgiveness is also an important motif in the novel. By understanding your own characters, do you find it harder to forgive or to ask for forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a complex thing. I think society likes to tell us that when we grant it, we are holy. When we ask, we are humble. But like any other act, the act of forgiving is what we make of it.
For example, I think Noor finds it very, very hard to forgive, especially when she feels like she’s being told to forgive someone else, instead of someone asking for forgiveness. . Salahudin is similar. It’s not easy for him to ask for forgiveness – in fact, he tries to earn it without really asking for it directly. However, it’s even more difficult for him to grant it, because I think granting true forgiveness means releasing rage. And it takes a long time for Salahudin and Noor to even recognize that the feeling knotted inside them is rage.
Let’s move on to the characters. The story is told in 3 POV, Salahudin, Noor and Misbah. Was anyone’s point of view particularly difficult to write?
It took a while for Noor to let me in. I struggled with her voice because she doesn’t like words or nerd stuff, like Sal (who I identify with), and she spent the first part of her life in Pakistan. She also hides a lot of herself, even from the people closest to her. The character of Noor required a lot of research on Pakistan, interviews with family members who grew up there, a much better understanding of the Punjabi language than I had. To discover his heart, his voice, it really took each of the 15 years that I spent on this book.
The characters have very different relationships with their culture and faith. When writing All my ragehow did you ensure an uncritical way of portraying the many different attitudes people have towards faith?
In general, I think if you’re writing books for young people, being judgmental isn’t the wisest course. The objective of All my rage is to offer a story that bears witness to the lives of these three people, Noor, Salahudin and Misbah. In my opinion, there should be no judgment involved in this, just testimony.
Regarding the incorporation of faith, this is something that I have added over time. In early drafts, faith was not a big part of the book. I was afraid to make it a big part of the book. I am a Muslim in America. I was 18 when 9/11 happened. I have felt the Islamophobia and hatred of people of my faith very keenly over the past 20 years. At the same time, contemporary books I’ve read that incorporate a religious system – Islam or other religions – have always felt unforgiving or sugary. I wanted to write about how faith can comfort and condemn, how it can shelter and terrify. I really wanted to write about how faith can be many things at once, and part of growing is understanding what faith means to us as individuals. Three hundred pages isn’t really enough space to do it, but it’s something I wanted to at least touch on.
Get your copy of All my rage here.