It’s an escape, really, an escape from one state to another. The character, my character, tells the story in the first person. Why did I choose first person? For the immediacy, for one thing, because it’s first person present tense, which means the reader is there, right in the middle of the action, experiencing alongside the narrator. Although it’s a limiting choice of point of view, because the reader doesn’t get to see the narrative events through the perspective of anyone else, for this story, this choice was deliberate. The reader learns about sexual violence, birth, motherhood, faith, Arabic culture, language, and family life, alongside the narrator. They experience Amanda’s journey with her. This way, only the woman’s voice is heard. And so all the unknown and unknowable aspects of Islam and of life in an Arabic theocracy remain, to some extent, unknown, because we can only see them, understand them, or experience them as Amanda did, as a stranger and an alien.
First person creates an immediacy and an intimacy which third person cannot. Present tense achieves a similar effect. I want you to feel what she feels, taste what she tastes. I want you to know the inner life of this woman, and I want to be explicit about what she is going through – no, I have been explicit about this. I want you to feel her need and emptiness, and I want you to feel the joy and calm and peace that connecting with the spiritual life of her faith gives to her. You probably won’t like her, as a character, will probably want to shout at her, like I did. Why did you do that? How stupid are you? Like the child reading the ghost story, yelling, “Why are you going into the empty, scary house on the hill?”, you will shout at her, begging her not to make that decision. But maybe, by the end, she will win your sympathy, and your approval.
And maybe not.
But from the first word you are caught up in it, in her story. The narrative seizes you and it won’t let you go. Step into the desert with her, feel the burning pavements through the too-thin soles of her shoes, don the hijab, and enter her world.