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Author Tessa Afshar to greet readers at Bank Square

By Marisa Nadolny

Publication: The Day

Published July 26. 2013 4:00AM
Author Tessa Afshar to greet readers at Bank Square Books

Mark Twain would have loved it.

Just a few weeks ago, author Tessa Afshar read his great work, "Tom Sawyer," to a packed room of fans.

In Persian.

Afshar still recalls the first time she read "Tom Sawyer" as a child in Iran, and she shared that and other experiences of her creative life with a packed room at the launch of her third novel, "Harvest of Gold," at the Mark Twain House and Museum earlier this month. Beyond the enthusiastic audience, the venue itself made for a successful event in Afshar's view.

"I never dreamt that one day I'd have my book launched (at the Twain House). ... It was an amazing book launch. I knew I was blessed," Afshar notes.

Afshar heads next to Bank Square Books on Saturday to discuss and sign "Harvest of Gold," her newest work of Biblical fiction and the second in a series; the first is titled "Harvest of Rubies." The "Harvest" books tell the story of Sarah, a Jewish woman working in the typically male role of scribe in ancient Persia.

"In the first book, we meet (Sarah) as a scribe to the queen of Persia," Afshar explains. "She's a brilliant woman, who's better with books and accounts than she is with people when we first meet her. ... (Sarah) is the kind of person who's learned that her worth is in what she does; so she only feels as good as her last accomplishment, and I think some of us can relate to that personality trait. And then she loses her job."

Sarah finds her work and life additionally complicated by an arranged marriage to the nephew of the king. In "Harvest of Gold," Sarah finds she has unexpectedly fallen in love with her new husband, Darius; trouble is, Darius has grown distant and distracted from his marriage as the politics of the Persian empire - including a plot to kill the king - challenge their relationship even more.

Afshar acknowledges that her books, which draw heavily on Old Testament stories, might put off some readers. But as a longtime student of religion and history - Afshar holds a Master of Divinity from Yale University - Afshar notes that Sarah's struggle still might ring familiar to modern readers, despite its cultural distance.

"You can study history and find out human nature does not change," Afshar explains. "So, we're still trying to cope with the same things, we're still trying to struggle through the same sorrows and pains. We're still trying to find the meaning of the life that we've been given."

Some unexpected reader feedback illustrates Afshar's point. In this case, a male reader who described himself as a 260-pound, tattoo-covered construction worker contacted Afshar to thank her for her work and noted that a particular scene in one of her books moved him to tears. She was thrilled to receive his feedback and notes that hearing from her readers is among her favorite aspects of her job.

"These characters speak to (readers) somehow, and they make friends with them," she says. "I feel like I'm this privileged person just sitting on the sidelines, just hearing their stories. It's that magic that happens between a reader and a book. And that's my favorite part. Once the book goes out, it's not about me anymore."

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