BookLife Talks with Stella Atrium
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'The Body Politic'
What was the impetus for this series?
The challenge I set for myself was to provide more examples of how women are perceived in community. Mother, teacher, nurse, and secretary are all possible. Protestor, philosopher, military commander, and khalif are also roles for exploring how women work together to gain a stronger voice. The first novel, The Bush Clinic, was about surviving in a conflict zone during the tribal wars: how to defend against a skirmish that’s on your doorstep; how to feed the children; how to protect girls from abuse; how to gain property rights and business rights in a volatile society.
The Body Politic is more about resistance to a local ruler who has given into corruption and taking foreign aid that does little to serve the populace. Rights to business ownership, to clean water, to prenatal health care, and to the vote are all worthy of the agitation from the tribal women. Except Rabbenu Ely won’t step down in favor of home rule and democratic election, so the women resort to immolation. Characters we know and love take turns embracing death by fire in the Cylay square to protest the lack of home rule. Kelly Osborn becomes their reluctant spokesperson while the leading women fall one by one.
Who is your ideal reader and why?
My ideal reader is a Middle Eastern woman, surprisingly—Iranian women and others like them who are seeking a breath of liberty and ways to build a life in a repressive society. The struggle for human rights is universal, but specific scenes reflect situations that Americans experience only by watching the news. Bridging the gap between actual events and the news segment narrative is part of amplifying the ethnic voice. Male characters in my stories get to fill hero roles, such as a general or doctor or scientist or journalist. We don’t short the men, because a woman is more interesting if an interesting man pursues her.
While The Body Politic takes place on a different planet, the historic evils of colonization are very much present. What was it like navigating that as you wrote?
I have always wondered how women survive in a conflict zone. Where are the stories of their endurance and backbone and personal losses? We don’t even have statistics for how many die each year from famine or among Native Americans, for example. What options do they act on to escape their circumstances or to help others escape? How do they manage their children? What lore do they teach that provides cohesiveness within the group? These questions keep me awake at night.
Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now?
Women in America have largely won the struggle for community rights for health care and a presence in business. We can own property and make investments and drive cars. Women in other parts of the world have no champion to create a narrative for their struggles and for who should lead and who should be toppled for ignoring the ever-present issues.
When can readers expect the next book in the series?
Home Rule: Book III of The Tribal Wars is due out in May 2023. Photojournalist Hershel Henry takes up the narrative and tries to make sense of the internal struggles among the tribes. He meets some of the female characters we’ve already followed for 800 pages, and since the reader knows more about these women than Henry does, it provides a delicious dichotomy.