A British family's Iranian-born matriarch confronts the cultural and romantic ghosts of her past in Crowther's debut, The Saffron Kitchen (Reviews, Oct. 2).
You're the British-born daughter of an Iranian mother and a British father, as is the daughter of your main character, Maryam. How culturally and emotionally connected are you to Iran?
People tend to describe me as half-English or half-Iranian, but growing up with an Iranian mother and an English father doesn't really make you feel like you draw on two cultures—my family were my one culture and my one world. I was connected emotionally to Iran via my mother's stories, and I went back to Iran every summer until the Iranian revolution [in 1979]. I began visiting again 15 years ago to reconnect with the country and with family there, and more recently to research the book.
What does the novel reveal of Iran?
I hoped to show a world of families and village life beyond the politics. People, including Iranian friends, have told me that it gives a very strong sense of place and of family conversation. My mother said, "It makes me feel like I'm there." That made me feel good.
Maryam, then 16, is banished from the family by her father when he suspects she has slept with a young man. Would that happen to Maryam today?
I have female friends and relatives training to be doctors, teachers, lawyers—and when I ask if they'd like to live in London, they say, "no, Iran's my home." But there are deeply troubling stories—the BBC's recent documentary about a young girl who was killed for so-called crimes against chastity. For Maryam today, it depends on the family. If you put her in another family situation, the dynamic might be very different—for good or for bad.
Your biography mentions a stint working for "the Iraqi opposition in the 1990s." What's your view of Iraq more than three years into the conflict, and what do you see ahead?
The situation in Iraq is heartbreaking. There are so many lessons to be learned by America about what has happened there, and what is happening now. I hope America's leaders take these lessons fully to heart as they think about Iran.
Will the book be published in Iran?
I don't have a publishing contract, but [getting published in Iran] is not a straightforward process.