When I set out to write Before She Sleeps, I wanted to portray a futuristic society in which Middle Eastern and South Asian women were trapped by their government: given false hope that their status had been elevated to that of mothers of the nation, when in fact they were its repopulation slaves after a nuclear war.
Although the women of the Panah enacted a type of rebellion, they were limited in their circumstances of a closed system, impossible to truly escape without the help and solidarity of men who would not participate in the authoritarian system on moral grounds, or for their own interests.
In The Monsoon War, I imagined a group of women living in the mountains, their lives still harsh and constrained by circumstances beyond their control. But they choose open revolution instead of closeted subversion. Thus, the two novels would play off against each other like night and day.
The women of the Hamiyat, the armed resistance group, unlike the women of the Panah, are soldiers who live openly, in the fresh air of the mountains instead of the underground bunker of the Panah and climate-controlled towers of the affluent city-dwellers. They fight and have fun and dream of glory in battle.
Similarly, I wanted to create main characters who were strong and active, rather than controlled and passive as they were in the previous novel. So, I came up with four women who would represent the archetypes of the novel: Alia, a Wife; Katy Azadeh, a Hamiyat soldier; Raana Abdallah, a Minister in the government, and Fatima Kara, a Commander in the Hamiyat.
These women are not just characters in their own right, but representations of the different stages of a woman’s life, from youth to adulthood and into mature middle age. They each have a defining role and unique characteristics so they stand out from the crowd. We see women negotiating with and handling power in all its iterations. The women of the Panah also make an appearance in the Monsoon War, at first like a Greek chorus, and then they slowly discover their own agency.
What’s interesting is that in The Monsoon War, there are male characters, but they operate on the periphery of the action involving the women. So, you have a General as a foil to the Minister, a science expert who is subservient to the commands of his superiors, and a man who was very important in Before She Sleeps but now only appears as a ghost in this book. It was an interesting experiment to see what would happen if men were cast in passive roles and women in action/active roles.
My inspiration for the premise of The Monsoon War came from some of the resistance movements by women that I was seeing taking place between 2014 and 2022. For example, the Kurdish women fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. I researched similar resistance movements in Colombia with the women of the FARC, and the participation of women in the Arab Spring revolutions.
I didn’t want to present an idealized version of women fighters, as they face tremendous obstacles and threats to their safety, and sexual harassment even when fighting alongside male compatriots. But I wanted to create a feeling of freedom and expansion for a group of women who are following their deepest passion and purpose.
Although The Monsoon War encompasses war, repression and death, there is also space for hope, change and joy, and that’s what I wanted to come across more strongly than anything else. Of course, who wins the war is important, but the act of fighting for what you believe in is the victory that transcends the outcome.
The Monsoon War (May 16, 2023) is available for pre-buy everywhere you purchase books. To find purchasing options -including IndieBound- and to read more about The Monsoon War and author Bina Shah, see our book pages.