A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
Every writer, it’s said, has a single story to tell — and tells it over and over again.
A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the most famous and influential woman in Islam, inspired me to write about her life in my novels “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina.”
Now that I’m at work on a third novel — also historical fiction — I’m asking myself: What is my story?
Married at nine to the Prophet Muhammad when he was fifty-two, A’isha’s tale begins as that of a girl with no powers of self-determination. In choosing her husband, and in urging the marriage before A’isha had even reached puberty, her father considered only his own political gain. In this respect, at least, A’isha was like other women of her time.
Yet by virtue of her intelligence, courage, and heart, A’isha grew up to become a uniquely self-empowered woman — a poet, a noted religious scholar, a political advisor, and the most beloved wife of one of the most charismatic men in the history of the human race. As “The Sword of Medina” shows, A’isha held Muhammad in her arms as he died, and then went on to become a warrior, leading troops in the first Islamic civil war.
Today A’isha is revered by Muslims, who know her as the “Mother of the Believers.” That’s quite a legacy for a woman who began her married life as a girl so frightened that her mother had to carry her in to the wedding and set her down in her husband’s lap.
My new book, tentatively titled “Four Sisters, All Queens,” tells a similar tale.
Set in 13th-century Europe, it portrays the lives of women whose marriages were arranged when they were quite young — twelve years old, in one case — to men who were sometimes much older. Although they were queens, and supposedly quite powerful, their influence depended wholly on their husbands’ status as kings and their ability to bear male heirs to the throne. Yet, working within the confines of their culture, they commanded troops in battle, rescued their husbands from danger, managed the finances of their kingdoms, helped to expand empires, and brokered the first peace between England and France in more than a century.
As I wrote A’isha’s story and weathered controversy and death threats, I discovered in her example the power to prevail by using my wits, my love, my courage, and my strength. Now, my four sisters — Marguerite, queen of France; Eleanor, queen of England; Sanchia, queen of Germany; and Beatrice, queen of Sicily, teach me new life lessons every day about self-empowerment, about reaching my own highest potential as a woman and as a person, as I write and explore their inner and outer lives.
So — what, then, is the story I am telling again and again? It is, in effect, my own story. Sexualized by my own father at a very young age while my mother failed to protect me — much like the heroines of my novels — I am still seeking my own power. And, like the women in my stories, I am finding it not in external sources such as money or political office, but from within myself.
This, I believe, is true power, the only kind that endures.
What’s your story?