Saturday, September 18, 2010

Saturday's Stupid Saying

Family Fortunes host: Name something made of wool.

Contestant: Sheep


Yes, I'm back to posting on Saturdays:) No more getting up early for the Farmer's Market, although in a few weeks I do have a Fall Festival to participate in.

In case you missed it, Kenzie has a release date for Wild At Heart: Nov 23rd (hopefully edits will be completed and everything polished, buffed, waxed, etc:) And also, I believe she now has an editor for Teacher's Pet:) So hopefully two releases in the near future! She's also the featured author on the Romance Books R Us blog. Go over and leave her a comment?

I'll be at the bookstore most of the day, so I won't be online until late tonight.

Please welcome fellow XOXO author, Timothy Spearman. He was scheduled for an interview on Thursday, but emails were apparently lost in cyberspace. Maybe one of these days it will appear and you will see the entire thing:) But for now, here's a peek at his book, Must I Remember.

Must I Remember
Timothy Spearman
bestselling book is now available on line:
http://www.xoxopublishing.com/shop-online
in the following formats:
ebook CD and in paperback.

"Straw boats to borrow arrows" is a proverb based on a legend about a Chinese
military strategist, an adviser to a general. The narrative style of this novel
is influenced by the legend. According to the fable, the general asked his
adviser to produce one hundred thousand arrows for his army in advance of a
military offensive across the Yangtze River. Rather than decline what the
general considered a mission impossible, the adviser agreed to the challenge.
Not only did he promise to deliver the arrows, but insisted it could be done in
only three days. He vowed to deliver one hundred thousand arrows within
seventy-two hours or face certain death if he failed. He launched his boats just
outside the enemy's naval yards. The enemy, unable to see clearly through the
fog, resorted to firing volleys of arrows to prevent an attack. With the
eventual break of dawn approaching, the adviser called in the boats bristling
with one hundred thousand plus arrows, all donations of a badly outwitted enemy.

In this novel about an Afghani refugee family, there are several straw men
dispatched in several narrative boats. The story is told by a central
protagonist, who breaks off her narrative to allow her mother and brother to
tell their sides of the story. And each one of them tells stories about Mr.
Rostami as well, who died at the hands of the Taliban. What makes this story of
terror unique is the telling of it. With so many straw men telling their sides
of the story, it is impossible to establish a definitive narrator of the novel.
Fire might be drawn, but by whom? It seems like there would be a lot of wasted
arrows.

Must I Remember is based on the Rostami family's epic journey to find a new
home. In this excerpt, Shegufae opens the story by recounting the misfortunes
that first brought the family into the mess that forced them to leave their
homeland as hunted refugees.


Chapter One
Being a Foreigner in Your Own Country

My father, who I will call Papa, is a respected name in Afghanistan. I
think that's why he was afraid to leave. No one ever wants to leave home. No
wild animal ever wants to leave the nest. It is the mother that decides to wean
her offspring and send them out into the wild. It is natural for them to have to
learn to fend for themselves. Usually though, she waits till her young have come
of age. It is that way with one's mother country sometimes. Sometimes, she sends
her whelps beyond her borders, where they must learn to fend for themselves
without the protection of their mother country's customs and habits. On rare
occasions, the motherland becomes hostile toward her young and drives them from
her borders. These we call refugees and exiles. My father fell into this
category, as did we, his children. It was not his choice. It was not ours.
Sometimes the decision is not your own. Sometimes the stars decide things for
you.

In the New Testament of the Christian faith, it says that the cock crowed
three times before Jesus was betrayed. The Taliban visited my father three
times. They insisted he cooperate with them. He worked for a government agency
that had classified information about the country. He was asked to divulge
information about his work and the agency. He refused. The first time they came
for him he was gone for three days. We never thought we'd see him again. Most
people weren't given a second chance. My father had three. In America, they say
three strikes and you're out. The Taliban likes baseball. Sometimes they play by
American rules. My father was taken to a Taliban base, where he was interrogated
and subjected to beatings. He was asked repeatedly to reveal names, dates and
other information pertaining to his assignments. He refused to spill so much as
a bean.

"Tell us what we want to know," the Taliban agent insisted. "We want names,
dates, information. Tell us or your life may not go as you'd planned. For most
it is a wife, kids and threescore years. It may not be so for you. Life does not
always go as planned, especially for those who don't follow the rules."

"I follow the rules," my father insisted. "I just don't follow yours."

"Then you are not a good Muslim," insisted the agent.

"On the contrary, I am a Mohammedan to the core," my father countered. "My
name speaks for itself. I adhere to the Quran, not to Taliban dictum."

"You will tell us what we want to know or face the consequences," the agent
urged. "It can be easy for you or as difficult as you care to make it."

"I can tell you nothing," my father replied. "What do you think? I'm going
to betray my people?"

They let him know his days were numbered unless he cooperated. He tried
keeping track of the days. It is natural to try to count the days when you know
your days are numbered. A prisoner never knows how much time he has left.
Perhaps that's why we all count the days. Maybe we are slaves to the calendar
for a reason. None of us really know how much time we have. He refused to
cooperate, so they beat him and subjected him to hours of interrogation. The
usual mix of techniques was used. He was kept up all night. A lamp was kept
burning the entire time. His senses became confused. He could no longer tell day
from night. He became disoriented, confused, and listless. He was given no food,
offered no comforts. He was not permitted to sleep. The confusion and
disorientation only got worse. He did not know how many days he had been held or
how many he had left. Everything became a blur, minutes turning into hours,
hours into days, a single day becoming weeks. His days may have been numbered,
but he soon lost count. It is impossible to number the days when they become one
big blur, one day fading into another.

In the Taming of the Shrew, Katharina is held prisoner by her fiancé,
Petruchio. Like my father, Katharina lost track of the days. Like my father, she
grew confused. She is told that it is the sun in the sky when it is actually the
moon. She is told that it is the full light of day when it is actually the moon
at night. They call this psychological warfare today. Others call it programming
or brainwashing. Like Katharina, my father could not tell day from night. A lamp
hovered over him during interrogation. The same lamp kept him awake day and
night, but for him it was always day. There was no clock and no regular meals to
set your watch to. Katharina was made to do her husband's bidding through
torture and duress. The shrew would eventually be broken and submit. Not my
father. No amount of bullying or duress could break his will.

The David Lean classic Bridge over the River Kwai comes to mind when I
think of my father's indomitable will. The key is to break the will of those who
seek to break yours. No easy matter to be sure, but possible for those with an
indomitable will. The Japanese commander lived by the Confucian work ethic. This
is the disadvantage older societies always have. They become staid and unbending
in their habits. They can also be read cover to cover like a book. Westerners
see Asians as inscrutable and hard to read. Nothing could be further from the
truth. They are an open book. Habit and custom makes it impossible for them to
deviate from a set of norms. Filial piety requires devotion and commitment to
family. Serving one's family and community is the Confucian norm. Working
assiduously to provide for one's family and loved ones is an honoured duty.

The Japanese commander of the prison camp was duly impressed by the
ingenuity of the British POWs who strived so assiduously to build a sturdy and
solid bridge over the River Kwai. Indeed, the British prisoners showed so much
commitment to the project, it appeared to be a labour of love. The Japanese
commander assumed that the prisoners would take pride in their achievement,
would become attached to it and would be anxious to see it stand as a living
testament to their vanity. He did not realize that the prisoners only wished to
wound the pride of their captors through a lavish display of ingenuity and
engineering prowess. Little did he know that they would have no attachment to
their project whatsoever and would be perfectly happy to see it blown sky high.

The reason for this is that the Christian mind is set upon a higher ideal. Their
kingdom is not of this world. They have their sights set on heaven. It is
therefore no challenge whatsoever for the true Christian to overcome a sense of
attachment to anything in this world.

The true Muslim is little different. Surrendering to the will of Allah is
a joy to this pious people. My father lived in accordance to the will of Allah.
He knew that anything he had built with his own hands was worthless unless it
accorded with the will of the Most High. His captors felt assured that this
ambitious man would be attached to his achievements in the journalistic field
and would wish to continue his career. They bargained on him doing whatever was
necessary to remain in the country and continue his illustrious career. They
didn't realize that my father had allegiances to a higher power, a motivation
far exceeding the short-term temporal aspirations of man. My father had his eye
set on eternity and wished to live in accordance with Allah's eternal laws.

Selling one's country and one's people down the river so that one man could have
his place in the sun was not my father's idea of a life worth living. He lived
by a nobler covenant, the covenant of Abraham to which all Muslim ethics and law
bow. My father was perfectly willing to surrender his entire career and
everything he held dear, his house, his property, his life savings, his career
accomplishments, all relinquished in the blink of an eye because he refused to
profit at the expense of his people and homeland. Or as the progenitor of the
Christian faith once put it, "It profits a man nothing if he gains the whole
world and loses his soul."

Three days later, my father rose from the dead. I came home to find him
sitting in his chair. I went to him just to make sure he was real. I threw my
arms around him and didn't let go for the same number of days. I was afraid he
might disappear again unless I hung on to him. "Next time they'll have to take
me too," I thought. Whenever I was home, I never left his side. I put up quite a
fuss when my mother made me go to school. I wanted to stay by my father's side.
One day, I came home to find his chair empty once again. I went into the
garden to see if he was tending to his plants. I went into the study to see if
he was at his books. I went into the kitchen and found my mother. Her
grief-stricken face revealed everything.

"Where's father?" I asked.

"They came for him in the night when you were sleeping," she replied.

"So that's why you were so silent at breakfast," I observed.

"Yes," she admitted.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because the truth is hard enough for an adult to bear," she replied. "I
wished to spare you the upset. I hoped he might be home before you."

"Do you think he'll return?" I asked.

"That is up to Allah, my child. He decides everything."

But my father did return. This time it took four days. The extra day made
us lose hope as I'm sure it was meant to. His return boded well. It seemed to be
the will of Allah, so we considered it a miracle. It was not such a happy family
reunion this time however. My father's ribs were bandaged. He wheezed and
coughed a lot and sometimes there was blood in his tissue. His handsome face was
buried beneath a rash of welts, cuts and bruises. He was not himself and it did
not look like my father. He was not so sweet-tempered and often flew into rages.
I began to doubt this man was my father, imagining him to be a replacement
double.

He came for him one more time. This was the third and last. The Americans
say three strikes and you're out. They are right. Most terrorists don't have the
patience to offer fourth chances. This time he was absent for five days. The
extra day assured us he would not return. During his five day absence, he
received no food or water. He was not permitted to sleep. Every time he nodded
off, they would throw water in his face to revive him. The water would further
tantalize him, but he would not be permitted to drink. After five days, they let
him go. They decided to give him one more chance to consider their request.

"We will let you go one last time," said the Taliban. "But do not think
for a moment that you are free. You are permitted to walk only one road. There
is no fork in this one; there are no divergent paths; there are no crossroads.
There is no other recourse for you. The road signs could not be clearer. There
is only one destination marked on the map. Think about it. Think about the map
we have drawn for you. Consider our request. But know this: If you decide on
another route, we will still provide you with directions. Consider those
directions and to where they might lead."

The Buddhists say suffering stems from desire and desire stems from
attachment. I guess that's why my father was reluctant to leave. The Americans
say home is where you hang your hat. My father hung his hat in the hallway by
the door. It's hard not to be attached to the place where you hang your hat. He
could have spared himself several beatings had he not been so attached to home.
He didn't want to leave Kabul. War-shelled or not it was his home. He didn't
want to leave the house he had built and the memories it preserved; he didn't
want to bid farewell to friends and neighbors; he was reluctant to leave his
workplace and assignments. Leaving his career was like amputating his arms.

Leaving his home was like removing his legs. And so he left Afghanistan a
quadriplegic.

"What can I do?" my father asked. "This is my country. I have built my
life here. Everything I have is here. My reputation is built on the sweat and
toil of my career. I am known here. Where can I go where my name will be known?
Who will respect us in another country if we run? Who will respect a family on
the run with no place to go? We will be reduced to beggars at the mercy of
other's pity."

"We can't stay here," reasoned my mother. "They have come for you three
times already. Do you think they will ever just let you alone? Can you not see
that they will pursue and hunt us all down? What will happen if you come home to
see us slaughtered, your entire family in a pool of blood on the floor?"

"I know, but what about our life?" he asks. "What about the life I have
built for us here? Are we going to let all that go?"

"We have no choice," my mother insisted. "Either we leave the country or
we leave this life. They will not permit you to retain the life you have known.
Either you work for them or you are dead. You cannot just consider yourself. You
must consider your family. You have a responsibility to protect your children.
They must come first."

The Buddhists believe one should free oneself from attachments.
Attachment they say leads to desire and desire leads to suffering. It is
advisable, even necessary, to free oneself from attachment of sundry kinds.
Nothing lasts forever in our world and Buddhists do not cling to the illusion of
permanence. We Muslims do. For us, the Koran is permanent; the Imam equally so;
Mecca and the Qabbah as fixed as any constellation in the heavens. Allah is
permanence itself, of greater constancy than the sun in the sky.

In Islam, there is a dwelling surpassing one's personal domicile in
importance. There is a more permanent dwelling, which is Islam itself. Islam is
the ruler that is supported by the people. The tent is Islam; the pole is the
ruler; the ropes and pegs are the people. Each is mutually dependent on the
other. If we failed to support the tent with our ropes and pegs, it would
collapse and that cannot be permitted. If my father allowed his career, his
property and his house to stand, but allowed the tent, which is Islam to
collapse, what kind of man would he be? What kind of Muslim? What kind of father
to his children? The man who stands for nothing cannot support himself. In
failing to support himself, he cannot support his family. In failing to support
his family, the pegs and ropes offer no support and the tent which is Islam
collapses and the entire caliphate is reduced to ruins.

Still, we Muslims had to acknowledge that our dwelling was impermanent;
my father's job, our household antiques, our furniture, all were impermanent. We
had to bid farewell to all of them. We understood the Buddhists now. Our dharma
had led us to understand theirs. We were forced by circumstance to see the
universe as it really was. In the Hebrew Book, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, it
states that, "To everything there is a season,/ A time to be born and a time to
die." Truly. The four seasons engulf us. All things in the universe bow to the
law of impermanence. The poet Shelley called it "Immutable Mutability". One can
see the impermanence of his universe in "Mount Blanc" and "To a Skylark". To be
so free of attachment that one could soar free as a bird, a skylark, is a
freedom to be envied because it is free of desire, and so, free of suffering.

We left everything behind. My mother left her china; my father his books;
my brother his toys; and I left my dolls; my mother relinquished her antiques
and gave up all she treasured and held dear. Some things were dispensed among
our neighbors. There was the thought that the most valuable items might be sent
on to us when we arrived in some third country. No one can free himself from all
attachments.

We packed our things and boarded a bus bound for the Afghani-Pakistan
border. On the way, we met a Taliban checkpoint. The Taliban boarded the bus,
miniboos in my dialect. The look on their faces revealed they were looking for
someone. They came down the aisle. They did not appear to recognize my father.
When he locked eyes with them, they turned away as though he were a stranger to
them. Their expressions were far from an open book. They could not be read. They
conveyed no emotion. This was oriental inscrutability at its best. They turned
around immediately and exited the bus. My family issued a loud sigh of relief.
It seemed very loud. Perhaps the other families had joined in our chorus. I'm
not sure. I was too scared to notice. The bus driver closed the doors, revved up
the engine and pulled out. But the bus got no more than a few feet before it
ground to a halt. The bus doors flew open and the Taliban boarded the bus once
again.

"Right, everyone off!" said the Taliban. "Move it! Get your asses off the
bus now."

The families were forced off the bus at gunpoint. My father was pushed
along ahead of us. They pushed him out of the bus. He stumbled when he hit the
ground running. They dragged him away. I could see the Taliban interrogating
him.

"So you are headed for the Pakistani border?" the Taliban leader observed.
"Did you think you could get away so easily?"

"What makes you think I am going to Pakistan?" my father retorted.

"You think we are stupid? The bus is going to the border town of Chaman.
Are you telling us you are just sightseeing?"

"Think what you like," my father replied.

"Thank you, we will," say the Taliban. "This is what we think."

The Taliban leader pulled out his gun and held it to my father's temple.
"Why are you leaving the country?"

"It's my country," said my father. "I can leave it if I choose. It's none
of your concern."

"Please, don't take my husband!" my mother protested. "He's a father of
two. Please leave him alone. He's done nothing wrong. And don't take my son.
He's only a boy. Please let him go."

"If you don't shut up, we might take your daughter instead. Shut your
mouth, woman. This man of yours has no right to live. Neither have you, his
worthless chattel. Shut up or we might kill you and your children as well!"

They dragged my father away. Jamsid, my ten-year-old brother, ran to my
father. He hugged him around the waist. My mother also tried to get the Taliban
to release my father, but was knocked to the ground with a backhand cuff to the
face. She lay listless on the ground. Jamsid pulled on my father's coat to try
to free him.

"Let my father go!" he insisted. "You have no right to take him. Who do you
think you are?"

"Get out of here, you little brat," the Taliban leader rebuked him. "Get
your hands off the prisoner or you'll be next."

My mother grabbed Jamsid by the hand and tried to pull him away. My father
was made to face his firing squad. The Taliban executioners raised their rifles.

The report of the guns echoed off the surrounding hills. The Kochi (gipsy
cave-dwellers) could be heard in the far off caves wailing. Their mournful calls
continued unabated. My father slumped to the ground. The universe appeared to be
mourning his passing. It was a funeral oration.

Jamsid jumped up and down in a mad frenzy. He flew at the Taliban, lashing
out at them with his fists. My mother rose to defend him. She grabbed him by the
hand and tried to pull him away. A Taliban agent struck her on the hand with the
butt of his rifle. My mother lost hold of Jamsid's hand and fell to the ground.
Jamsid was dragged away kicking and screaming.

"Mom!" he screamed. "No, don't let them! Take me! I don't want to go. I
don't want to leave you. Let me go! I want to be with my mother! Let me go!"

My mother was on her knees. She beat her head against the ground. She
struck herself on the skull with clenched fists. This is the suicidal impulse
that seizes anyone who loses someone they love. How exactly does one kill
oneself when no weapon is at hand? There are few options unless there is a
freeway bridge or cliff nearby. The only option is to strike oneself in the head
as hard as possible in the hope of inducing a concussion or a mortal blow to the
temple.

"Oh my God, my husband is dead and my boy is gone!" my mother screamed.
"They've taken my boy. What am I going to do? What can I do? How can I survive
on my own? How can I feed my little girl? How can we survive? My husband has
left us. What are we going to do?"

5 comments:

Kenzie Michaels said...

Yay! The return of Saturday's Stupid Sayings:)

Amber Skyze said...

Congrats on all the wonderful news. Enjoyed the excerpt Tim!

Sandra Cox said...

Sounds like a great read. Wishing you many sales.

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