Please Introduce yourself to our readers:
My name is Nahid Sewell and I was born and raised in Iran. I grew up in Tehran before the Islamic Revolution and have visited my homeland numerous times. I have enjoyed a successful career in Information Technology, including authoring four non-fiction books and my new novel The Ruby Tear Catcher. I enjoy writing, traveling, family, gourmet cooking and exercise. The gourmet cooking and exercise often go hand in hand!
Tell us a bit about your background: education, family and where you grew up.
I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran and moved to the US in the late ‘70s to attend university. Going to college in the US was always a dream and goal. After graduating from Lehigh University in PA with a bachelors and masters, I moved to Chicago for my first job and have remained here since. I am married to an American and have two sons, both in college. My parents, who are still living, spend their time in Iran and the US.
You’ve published four non-fiction books. What inspired you to write a novel, The Ruby Tear Catcher? What type of book is it?
I was having coffee with a friend who mentioned the movie Not Without My Daughter had left the impression that all Iranians are Islamic fundamentalists. So I decided to write a book that would help reshape this image because I want people to know that Iranians are quite warm and loving. Initially, that was my goal. But as I started writing, I felt it was just as important to expose how women are treated in the Middle East and how that affects their life and their rights. Plus, I had a story that needed to be told. The Ruby Tear Catcher is a historical novel based on real people and real events. It’s a story close to my heart because it affected people I know. I wanted to share how the Islamic Revolution changed their lives.
Revolution changed their lives.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
I want to transport readers to Persia, the land of blue-tiled mosques, saffron rice and kabob and bazaars filled with merchants selling anything from spices to Persian rugs. I wanted to share the beauty of my culture and the warmth of my people. But I also wanted to expose how poorly women are treated in the Middle East and help empower women and girls. By drawing parallels between Christianity and Islam, my hope is for readers to understand that we are all the same and should embrace, not discriminate against those who don’t fit our mold. Most importantly, I want to give a voice to my sisters in the Middle East.
What is a Tear Catcher?
This is one of the first questions people ask me. A tear catcher is a glass vessel shaped like a long necked vase with a top that fits the eye. In old Persia, when a sultan left home for war, he gave a tear catcher to each of his wives in the harem. When he returned, the sultan examined the tear catchers to see which wife had missed him most. Tear catchers are also mentioned in the Old Testament in Psalm 56 when David prays to God, “Thou tellest my wanderings, put thou my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Thy Book.” There’s even mention in the Apocryphal books that Mary Magdalene carried a tear catcher to the tomb of Jesus. The tear catcher symbolizes many things. It ties Muslims, Jews and Christians together. In my novel, the tear catcher is ruby in color to symbolize love and passion—a father’s love for his daughter, a sister’s love for her brother and an impossible passion between a man and woman who come from different worlds. For me, The Ruby Tear Catcher symbolizes the tears many of us have shed over the loss of our beloved Iran as we knew it.
Are the characters and events in The Ruby Tear Catcher real?
Yes, most of the characters in The Ruby Tear Catcher are based on real people. The story follows real events and I tried to make the history and timelines as accurate as I could. This story is very close to my heart.
Does Leila, the main character, in any way project some of your own feelings and characteristics? How does the character Leila adapt into her different worlds, Iran and the U.S.?
I’d like to think that much of my personality and character is reflected in Leila. Thankfully, I didn’t experience the horrific events she had to endure but I can identify with her. I grew up in pre-revolution Tehran and enjoyed the privileged life Leila (the main character) initially has. My father, like hers, inspired me to be confident, independent and respectful of others. Most importantly, he taught me I am second to no one. Like me, Leila sometimes did things to please others, but she never gave up her self-respect or conviction in her beliefs, and she never allowed anyone to break her, even in the worst situations. So Leila personifies hope, perseverance, and survival. I’d like to think that’s who I am. Leila, just like me, adapts to her environment. A lot of her experiences are drawn from my own, first in Iran where I grew up under the Shah, in America where I attended college, followed by her return to Iran under Islamic law. For instance, I’ll never forget how uncomfortable it was for me to put on a pair of shorts to go on a boating trip when I’d first arrived in the US. It’s just not done in Iran. On the other hand, when Leila returns to Iran after the Islamic revolution, her indignation over women being forced to sit in the back of the bus is based on my own experience. I have to tell you I was ready to become the Rosa Parks of Iran. Leila is a natural survivor and embraces the changes in the different worlds, much like I had to.
Do you believe you took a risk in writing this story?
Having published The Ruby Tear Catcher means I can’t return home. I knew this but made a conscious choice to go ahead because I believed this story needed to be told. And to make the story real, I decided not to sugar coat things and to tell the truth as I saw it. I didn’t intend to make any political statements, but the story describes how the regime change affected my people. So yes, there’s risk in writing this story, but again I felt it had to be told.
Your novel is dedicated to ‘My sisters in the Middle East’. Tell us more about that.
I dedicate The Ruby Tear Catcher to my sisters in the Middle East, the women who are treated like second class citizens or worse—are abused, even killed. I wrote this book for all women and for anyone who experiences intolerance because of their religion, ethnic background or gender. The statistics on aborted fetuses, discarded infant girls, honor killings and the like are disturbing. By exposing how women in the Middle East are treated, I hope to raise awareness and help end this abuse.
Is the book’s theme women’s rights?
Women’s rights is certainly one of the main themes of The Ruby Tear Catcher. I am one of the lucky ones. I had a father who treated me equally and gave me confidence and an opportunity to get a world-class education so I could stand on my own feet. Not all women are that fortunate and I don’t take my good fortune for granted. So I want to be their voice. I want to inspire young girls and women alike. I want them to know there are many of us out there trying to make a positive difference in their lives.
Where is The Ruby Tear Catcher sold?
The Ruby Tear Catcher is sold online via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers. You can also request it from your local bookstore or library. Kindle and e-book version are also available.
Lastly, what is your message to readers of The Saturday Post?
I’d like to ask for tolerance. I’d like to convey the message that fundamentalism is an extreme view of religion. It’s this kind of thinking that fosters an ‘us versus them’ mentality and completely disregards the true principles of Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any religion. If I can help change one person’s life for the better with my writing, then I’ve achieved my life’s purpose.