Interview: Naseem Rakha

Naseem Rakha has received rave reviews for her debut novel, and I know you are all going to learn a lot from her interview. I did. After reading this interview, don’t forget to enter our giveaway for her book The Crying Tree.


Your website mentions that you are intrigued by the “capacity to forgive the unforgivable.” I have to say, I share this feeling as well. What are some of the more incredible stories you’ve heard in relation to forgiveness?

The Crying Tree: A Novel is about the unspeakable tragedy of having a child murdered, and what life looks like on the other side of that crime. My protagonists struggle with grief, secrets, vengeance, and ultimately the question of forgiveness, as the state prepares to execute the young boy’s killer.

The Crying Tree was inspired by a woman named Aba Gayle. We met at a peace rally in my small town, and she told me she just came from visiting a “friend” on death row in San Quentin. When I inquired about this friend, I learned that the person was the man who killed her daughter twenty-three years earlier. I was stunned. I did not understand how one could go from losing the most precious part of one’s life – a child – to forgiving the killer, and then consider him a friend! Aba Gayles journey was something I wanted to learn from and understand, so I began writing a novel, not based on Aba Gayle, but based on the journey many people have taken when they face violent crime.

Since The Crying Tree’s publication, I have received many letters, and have been told many stories by people attempting to come to grips with loss and injury. Some of these people still fight with feelings of hate and vengeance. Some have walked through that fire, and have come out the other end stronger. Some of the more amazing stories have been told to me by women serving time in prison for killing their abusers, or the abusers of their children. For them, forgiveness of themselves as well as the men they killed is not an abstract concept, but a very real and tangible struggle they must confront every moment of their lives.

The Crying Tree has received wonderful reviews. Tell us about a bit about it. What do you hope readers take away from it?

I’m *extremely* grateful for the positive feedback and attention The Crying Tree has received. It’s an international best seller; won the Pacific NW Booksellers Award; was a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection; a Book Expo America Emerging Author pick; a Target Breakout Book, as well as the only American selection for the UK’s Richard and Judy Book club (think Oprah, but with an accent). I still wake up some mornings and pinch myself.

By far, however, the best compliment I get about the book, is when people tell me it made them think. I have received countless letters from readers who tell me about how they have been changed by The Crying Tree. How it made them consider different viewpoints and issues they had not considered before. How it made them cry, and celebrate and feel emotionally linked to characters in a way they are not accustomed to. These are exactly my reasons for writing The Crying Tree and it is very gratifying to know that there are readers out there who come away moved, more aware, sometimes changed, and feeling an urgency that they simply must talk to someone about the book – now.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I am currently working on my second novel. Like the first, it deals with a topical and somewhat controversial subject. But this story will also be a love story, the kind of love that suffers from the lack of expression.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

The most interesting book I have ever read is very likely Kōbō Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes. Years ago, I randomly picked up this book and was stunned by both its unusual story line, and its compelling metaphors. Woman in the Dunes is about a man caught in a city fighting for the community’s survival against shifting waves of sand. The inhabitant’s methods for doing this are completely unorthodox and surprising, and force you to think about and question the roll of government, society, and culture.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like to walk. I like to garden. I like to make good food, then eat it with my friends and family. I like good wine, coupled with a good sunset. I like to travel. I like to read. I like to listen to birds in the morning and crickets at night. I like to fall asleep on the dry earth in the middle of a beautiful autumn afternoon. I like to play tennis. I like Copeland and Bach and Gillian Welch and Pink Floyd. I like to name clouds with my son.

In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?

A successful writer is one who uses words to express something in a way that can capture a reader’s heart and mind.

Where can we learn more about you?

The best place to go for information about me is my web page. I encourage people to sign up for my newsletter, as well.

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