All Lit Up: Congratulations on the publication of Monster Child. Can you tell us where you got the idea for the book?
Rahela Nayebzadah: I came up with the idea of Monster Child ten years ago. Originally, Monster Child was supposed to be a fantasy novel. It wasn’t until I taught Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony to a grade ten English class that I decided to write about a dysfunctional Afghan family. Also, I wanted to share my experiences with Islamophobia, racism, and what it means to be a Muslim woman living in Canada.
ALU: Monster Child is told through the voices of the Afshar children, but it’s not a children’s/YA book. What considerations went into the storytelling and character development to pull this off?
RN: No family is perfect. Lies, secrets, silence, and abuse exists in most families (regardless of one’s culture, race, religion, and class) and those affected the most by such atrocities are women and children. Monster Child could’ve easily been told by Farzana’s perspective or in third-person point of view, but I chose not to because the children’s voices and perspectives mattered to me. Also, each child had their own stories to tell in their own voices. However, in doing so, I did not want Monster Child to be considered a YA novel. Although there are a lot of crossovers, the degree of graphic detail in Beh’s assault is what makes Monster Child adult fiction.
ALU: Beh, Shabnam, and Alif are all fascinating in their own ways, but was there one child you felt most connected to when writing the book? If so, why?
RN: If I was asked this question while writing Monster Child, I would’ve said that I felt most connected to Beh. However, now that Monster Child is out in the world, I feel most connected to Beh and Alif. Beh is obnoxious, fearless, and a drama queen. Yet, despite her unpleasant character traits, she is endearing. Alif, on the other hand, is fragile and broken. I see myself in both characters.
ALU: The book opens with Beh’s point of view. What was the reasoning behind opening the story with her perspective?
RN: I wanted to open Monster Child with Beh’s point of view because her sexual assault is what unleashes the past and destroys the family.
ALU: Who, in your opinion, is the Monster Child?
RN: I’ve been asked this question numerous times from readers, and every time I answer by asking, “Who do you think is the monster child?” I ask because I’m far more interested in who the readers believe is the monster child. Some say it’s Khala Wajma, Kaka Farhad, and Amir. Others say it’s secrecy and the silencing of women’s voice rather than an actual person. To me, there is no single monster in Monster Child. Monstrosity exists within all the characters and it is up to the readers to make that decision.
ALU: Were there any books or films that influenced your writing while you were working on the novel?
RN: As an aspiring screenwriter, I’ve always been fascinated by dialogue. Dialogue moves the plot forward and is key to character development, which is why I turn to Spike Lee’s screenplays for inspiration. His dialogue is powerful, raw, and realistic. The dialogue in Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn has influenced my writing the most.
ALU: What’s a book you recently read that you’d recommend?
RN: I love reading novels that make me cry. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese was definitely a tear-jerker. The beautifully written novel is an important read to Canadians. Although the novel is fiction, the story it tells is true and crucial to Truth and Reconciliation.
A mother of two, Rahela Nayebzadah holds a PhD in the Faculty of Education from the University of British Columbia. Currently, she is a schoolteacher. Her autobiographical novel, Jeegareh Ma (2012), was based on her family's migration to Canada from Afghanistan.
Photo credit Joseph Reeves
If you missed it, check out highlights from last week's ALU staff discussion on Monster Child and download our questions for your own book club here.