One of the best parts of my gig as host of New Books in Historical Fiction is getting to read books that might not otherwise cross my path. That description doesn’t completely apply to The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas, for the simple reason that I have worked with the translator on nonfiction projects for the last dozen years, and I heard about the book first from her. In fact, I read it a year ago and had to put in some serious swot time to recapture the big points so that I could put together a set of questions for the interview. The need to study is no reflection on Pet Hawk, which I enjoyed a lot—only on my aging memory and the number of books I have read, for NBHF and on my own, since. Not to mention the effort I put into my own novels, which tends to squeeze everything else out of my brain.
But although I probably would have read Pet Hawk even without the impetus generated by the New Books Network—I am fascinated by Central Asia, which I am discovering only belatedly in my career as a Russian historian, mostly thanks to my research for The Golden Lynx and its sequels—my near-total ignorance about the conflict through which the Abbasid caliphate replaced its Umayyad predecessor, never mind the role played in that overthrow by the western quarter of the ancient Silk Road, meant that one read-through was insufficient for me to capture the ins and outs of the complicated family and state politics that form the background to Pet Hawk. Without the need to follow through on my promise to interview Liv Bliss, who produced the masterful translation of this novel, most likely I would not have gone back to it and so would have forever missed the subtlety that characterizes Dmitry Chen’s work.
Because Liv and I are, in a sense, both readers—although a translator plays an important creative role (more on that in a couple of weeks)—this interview has more the tone of a book club than the usual exchange with authors. So stop by and listen to our free conversation between friends. And by the way, the book has a gorgeous cover. As you may have guessed from last week's post, that means a lot to me.
Next week, fellow-author Hazel West is scheduled to guest-blog about historical fantasy. Meanwhile, check out the spotlight on The Winged Horse at Trisha Haddan’s Happy Book Reviewer site. And if you happen to live in Delaware County, PA, you can now borrow the e-book versions of my novels through the county library system. Many thanks to the Delco Library System for setting that up!
The rest of this post comes from the NBHF site. Note that, despite what I say in the interview, the e-book version of Pet Hawk does include the introductory map and cast of characters. I reread the book in print and had forgotten that I saw them in the Kindle version, too.
From the Saxons and Danes warring in the British Isles, this month’s interview skews dramatically eastward and dives back two centuries in time, although the circumstances of war and unrest will seem remarkably familiar. Nanidat, head of the Maniakh trading house, has just returned from two years in Chang’an, the capital of Tang Dynasty China—three months’ away along the Silk Road from his home in Samarkand. It is 749 CE. The House of Maniakh—like Samarkand and the surrounding lands—is slowly recovering from a recent invasion by the Arabs, who have striven to impose their rule and their religion on the Zoroastrian and Buddhist Sogdians. Nanidat looks forward to a relaxing visit filled with wine, women, and poetry before he again mounts his camel to return to his beloved Chang’an. Instead, he is less than halfway through the opening reception before a pair of strangers try to murder him.
The next morning, his knife wound still raw, Nanidat finds himself bundled out of his house, on the road west to Bukhara, in search of a young woman whom he has loved as a sister—and perhaps a little more. A reluctant traveler, Nanidat soon finds himself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy and intrigue that threatens his beliefs about his family and its place in the larger world.
Dmitry Chen’s The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas, translated by Liv Bliss (Edward and Dee, 2013), explores the events surrounding the decline of the Umayyad Caliphate, the rise to power of its successor state under the House of Abbas, the founding of Baghdad, and the conflict that underlies the current division between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, now playing out in Iraq. Follow Nanidat as he struggles, never quite certain where the next betrayal will come from, to puzzle out a path to safety before his would-be murderers succeed in their mission.