Lilas Taha is an electrical engineer by training and an advocate for domestic abuse victims. She was born in Kuwait to a Syrian mother and a Palestinian father, and immigrated to the US following the Gulf war. Bitter Almonds is Lilas Taha’s second novel. She lives in Texas.
Q & A with Lilas Taha
What do you most value in a good book?
A good pull, something that makes me ask my own questions about a character's actions and decision process.
What is your idea of pure happiness?
Being content, at peace with myself when I’m alone. And hearing my children’s giggles (even as adults now).
What are you reading right now?
I'm working on finishing my third book, and when I'm in this stage of writing, I don't read books in English. I'm reading Yousef Ziedan's novel AZAZEEL in Arabic.
What is your guiltiest reading pleasure?
Rereading parts of a book that I really enjoy over and over.
Which author do you most admire?
Too many to chose from, but Emily Brontë is at the top of the list.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Advocating on behalf of domestic abuse victims during my volunteering years in my community. Having the opportunity to contribute in some way at getting a woman and her children to a better state in life is priceless. I've volunteered on an individual capacity, as well as worked with great, inspiring, strong women at a non-profit organization called AADA for some years. The lessons I've learned, and the lives that touched me will stay with me forever.
What is your most treasured possession?
Two books: The first is a book written in Arabic by my father about the philosophy of contemporary child rearing methods. I value this book so much as it gives me a clear window to the workings of my father's complicated and compelling mind.
The second is a book owned by my grandfather on my mother's side. I have no idea what the book is about, since it's written in Turkish. But my brightest memory of my grandfather, who passed away when I was seven, was him reading constantly from it, scribbling Arabic words in it's margins, and tucking the book in the breast pocket of his traditional robe Umbaz. My grandfather fought in WWI under the Ottomans, and I found the worn-out book in the attic of his home in Syria just a few years ago. I hope someday to be able to get it restored and translated.
What words do you live by?
The only constant thing in life is change.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Arab legend Um Kulthoom songs in the background sometimes. Egyptian young idol Abdulhaleem songs take precedence other times. But, on occasion, silence is needed. I guess, my quirk is the acoustical environment depending on the kind of idea I'm working on.
What inspired you to write your first book? And what inspired you to write Bitter Almonds?
My first book Shadows of Damascus was born out of the frustration and sense of helplessness I felt at the beginning of the Syrian civil war. Bitter Almonds was my way to express my love for my father in his last years before he passed away. I wanted to give him hope, give him something to connect to after his long journey as a Palestinian refugee, displaced three times during his lifetime.
How did you come up with the title, Bitter Almonds?
Actually, my husband did. I used to read to him the book as I developed it on road trips. He patiently listened, chapter by chapter, and then made the revelation for the title. I love it!
What is your advice to writers?
Keep learning. No matter what and where you are in your career, there's always more you can learn to improve. And be patient. It's a long and difficult journey to publication.