Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Jacqueline Saper, author of From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran.
FQ: Tell us a little about your book.
SAPER: My book is a memoir about my experiences growing up in Tehran to an Iranian father and a British mother. Therefore, I have been a bridge between the East and the West since birth. My comfortable childhood and adolescence ended with the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The monarchy ended, and Iran became an Islamic theocracy. Almost overnight, I went from wearing miniskirts to wearing the hijab by force. I continued to live in the Islamic Republic for eight more years, hiding in the basement as Iraqi bombs fell over the city during the Iran-Iraq war. I finally left Iran with my husband and two young children in 1987.
FQ: Where do you think you’ve improved the most in your writing process, and ability and how do you think you have evolved?
SAPER: I am a witness to events that changed not only my destiny but also world history. The experiences have not traumatized me but instead have strengthened me. The theme of my book is survival. I don’t allow things to weigh me down. I learn, I grow stronger, and I move on.
FQ: What was the impetus for writing your book?
SAPER: When I got to America, I was eager to assimilate into American culture, love my adopted country, and appreciate its freedoms and form of government. But my past would not leave me alone. It was within me and longing to get out. I couldn't suppress my story because it was most unusual and it needed to be told. I always had this calling and yearning that I needed to write the story. For many years, I would jot down or write journal entries about my memories.
FQ: Have you always enjoyed writing, or is it something you’ve discovered recently?
SAPER: Growing up bilingual, I had always loved English vocabulary, literature, and writing. By writing the book, I used my creative side in conjunction with my logical mathematical side. (I am a Certified Public Accountant by education). Writing allowed me to use both my left brain and right brain in different career paths.
FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ?
SAPER: It took me a few years to finish the book. At times I spent eight to ten hours a day writing and researching. I wanted to make sure that all the events were historically accurate. It was a difficult task, as I had to relive all the experiences again while making sure I was factual and unbiased. When I began to write the book, all the memories poured out, and the words couldn't wait to get on paper. Actually, I had written much more but cut them out for the book...
FQ: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
SAPER: Writing a book is a full-time job, and it requires a lot of commitment. You have to know your subject matter very well and do extensive research. It’s doable, but like everything else, it needs a lot of dedication and passion. Many times, I wanted to give up. I said, “What have I put myself into?”
FQ: What makes your memoir unique? Why should readers pick up your book over others in the field?
SAPER: My memoir, From Miniskirt to Hijab, is the winner of the Chicago Writers Association 2020 Book of the Year Award. The book is also a finalist for the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award, the 2021 Feathered Quill Book Award, and the 2020 Clara Johnson book award. Foreword Reviews has selected the memoir as the Diversity Book of the Week, and Curated Chicago Magazine has recommended it as the “Must-Read Book of Fall 2020.” The Times of Israel article featuring my story had 6,024 shares within the first 24 hours. The ChicagoNow article titled "From Miniskirt to Hijab is a story for our times" is named one of the top 20 best posts (out of more than 500) of September 2020. Columnist Neil Steinberg has praised the book as documenting my unusual mixed cultural upbringing amid the revolution. The book is also part of the curriculum at Marymount University and Indiana University Bloomington.
FQ: Tell us a little about your qualifications in your field.
SAPER: I am an award-winning author, TEDx Speaker, op-ed columnist, and translator. My unique value is that I can analyze current events and place the occurrences in a historical context — a history that I personally lived through. I am a frequent guest on national and international television and radio shows. My opinion columns have appeared in The Seattle Times, Foreign Policy News, The Forward, The Sun-Sentinel, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Persian Heritage, and American Thinker. Academically, I have provided presentations to the students and faculty at Harvard, Indiana University Bloomington, The University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, and Northeastern Illinois University, Tel Aviv University, and Brandeis.
FQ: With so many books being released each year in the memoir genre, what made you decide to publish your book?
SAPER: The publishing world is competitive, but I believed in my book. My material was not only a memoir but also a critical historical account. People need to know what happened in Iran to understand what’s happening in the world today. I’m proud of my publisher, Potomac Books of The University of Nebraska Press. The press is one of the largest and diversified university presses in the country. After the manuscript went through a rigorous review, the publisher also hired an Iranian scholar to verify the dates, locations, and events mentioned in the book. The book is also available as an eBook and as an audiobook.
For more information on From Miniskirt to Hijab: A Girl in Revolutionary Iran, please visit the author's website at www.jacquelinesaper.com