The Center for Fiction welcomed Pakistani American writer Jamila Ahmed for the launch of her debut novel Every Rising Sun. Set in twelfth-century Persia, this retelling of One Thousand and One Nights re-centers Sheherezade in a feminist light, exploring her efforts to maneuver court intrigue to save her homeland–with her very own head at stake. Author Zeyn Joukhadar (The Map of Salt and Stars, The Thirty Names of Night) joined Ahmed in discussing this love letter to medieval Islamic history.
Every Rising Sun
By Jamila Ahmed
Published by Henry Holt
In twelfth-century, Persia, clever and dreamy Shaherazade stumbles on the Malik’s beloved wife entwined with a lover in a sun-dappled courtyard. When Shaherazade slips her first tale, the story of this infidelity, to the Malik, she sets the Seljuk Empire on fire.
Enraged at his wife’s betrayal, the once-gentle Malik beheads her. But when that killing does not quench his anger, the Malik begins to marry and behead a new girl night after night. Furious at the murders, his province seethes on rebellion’s edge. To suppress her guilt and quell threats of a revolt—and, perhaps, to marry the man she has loved since childhood—Shaherazade makes a plan. She persuades her father, the Malik’s vizier, to use his sway as a top official and offer her as the Malik’s next wife. On their wedding night, Shaherazade starts a tale, but as the sun ascends, she cuts the story off, ensuring that she will live to tell another tale, by repeating this practice night after night.
But the Malik’s rage runs too deep for Shaherazade to exorcise alone. And so, she and her father persuade the Malik to leave Persia—and the memories of his unfaithful wife—to join Saladin’s fight against the Crusaders in Palestine. This wider world is even more perilous. With plots spun against Shaherazade and the Seljuks from all corners, Shaherazade must maneuver through intrigue in the age’s greatest courts to safeguard her people. All the while, Shaherazade must keep the Malik enticed with her otherworldly tales—because the slightest misstep could cost Shaherazade her head.
The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Jamila Ahmed is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Barnard College, where she studied medieval Islamic history. Her writing has been published in the Normal School, Slate, Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, the Briar Cliff Review, and Colorlines.
Zeyn Joukhadar is the author of the Lambda Literary Award- and Stonewall Book Award-winning novel The Thirty Names of Night as well as The Map of Salt and Stars, which won the Middle East Book Award and was a Goodreads Choice Awards and Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize finalist. His work has appeared in Electric Literature, Salon, the Paris Review, [PANK], and elsewhere and has been included in anthologies such as Letters to a Writer of Color, This Arab Is Queer, Kink, and others. He has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Joukhadar serves on the board of the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI), and mentors emerging writers of color with the Periplus Collective.