I’m so excited to interview Shereen Malherbe on the blog today for the first author spotlight of #RamadanReadathon. Her latest novel, The Tower, was published last month by Beacon Books – you can read all of my thoughts on the book in my review!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shereen Malherbe is a British, Palestinian author.
She also researches and writes on behalf of Muslimah Media Watch about the representation of Muslim women in the media and appeared on British Muslim TV and the Islam Channel resulting in her classification in the Media Diversified Experts Directory. You can follow her on Twitter @malherbegirl.
ABOUT THE TOWER
Reem is a Syrian refugee who has arrived in London, trying to discover the whereabouts of her 10-year old brother, Adar. Obsessed with history and consumed by her fragmented memories of home, Reem is also hiding secrets she hopes will never be revealed.
After being placed in a tower block, she befriends Leah; a single mother who has been forced to leave her expensive South Kensington townhouse. Their unlikely friendship supports them as they attempt to find their place in a relentless, heaving city, and come to terms with the homes they left behind.
Both bold and timely, The Tower shows how Reem and Leah’s lives change and intersect in the wake of individual and communal tragedy, as well as in their struggle to adapt to a rapidly shifting society.
Salaam, Shereen! Thank you so much for joining us! To begin with, could you quickly introduce yourself and your latest novel The Tower? How would you describe the book in emojis?
SM: Salaam Nadia, thanks for having me! I am a British, Palestinian writer whose second novel, The Tower, is published by Beacon Books. The Tower follows the lives of two women who, by differing events, end up sharing the same tower block in an estate in North London.
For the emoji question, I would use the following: 💔💥😊🗺🏙🏭
Did you encounter any difficulties writing from two distinct perspectives? In what ways are Reem and Leah similar, and in what ways are they different?
SM: I prefer writing in multiple narratives – something both of my novels share. As a writer, once you know your characters that is the point when the writing becomes easier as they develop and grow throughout the process. Leah and Reem’s circumstances are similar but as characters they are completely different. It is this difference that helps them both at different times during the book.
The events of the novel parallel many different real-life events including the Grenfell Tower fire, Finsbury Park and Christchurch mosque attacks as well as the countless journeys undertaken by refugees. What did you hope to achieve through writing it and what do you want readers to take away from the story?
SM: Some of the parallels were accidental and that reflects how Muslims are feeling in society – the unease and the rise of islamophobia. These experiences are important to our narrative. My main aspiration for writing this book was to highlight the disparity in societies, refute stereotypes and to show how diversity and differences can work together for the betterment of society and not the other way around.
I think you definitely achieved that! The concept of what it means to call a place home is such a significant aspect of The Tower, as well as the preservation of history – these themes are also central to your debut novel, Jasmine Falling. What does home mean to you?
SM: For me, home has always been in different places. My family and I travel a lot and for me, home has become a set of values rather than a fixed place. I also have experienced the perspective of travel, and movement shifts ideas of home; how returning home never feels the same as it did before you left. With the global refugee crisis, exploring these ideas seems more crucial than ever.
And finally, what inspires your love of reading? And what are your favourite books by Muslim authors?
SM: I love Leila Aboulela’s books and I am a fan of reading the classics as they remind me of the importance of capturing society at a specific moment in time. I also love reading for the love of words so narratives like All The Light We Cannot See and The Miniaturist. I also read for techniques like the point of view transitions in The Essex Serpent. So, as you can see, I read different books for different reasons and moods. I have booked a three month slot off this summer to catch up with all the new Muslim women authored reads as there has been a fantastic flurry of them and I don’t want to miss any!
Thank you so much for joining us, Shereen. And thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions!
Want to win a copy of The Tower by Shereen Malherbe? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win this book or a book of your choice from any of the authors featured during #RamadanReadathon! These books will be revealed throughout the month so keep your eyes peeled for more interviews on this blog.
This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to you.