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Fanbase Press Interviews Rania Hanna on the Upcoming Release of the Novel, ‘The Jinn Daughter,’ Through Hoopoe Books

The following is an interview with Rania Hanna regarding the upcoming release of her debut novel, The Jinn Daughter, through Hoopoe Books. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Hanna about her creative experience in bringing the world and characters to life on the page, what she hopes that readers may take away from the story and Arab folkloric culture, and more!

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming launch of The Jinn Daughter! For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the story’s premise?

Rania Hanna: Shukran kteer! Thank you so much!

The story is about Nadine, a Hakawati, or storytelling, jinn. Her job is to eat the soul seeds of the dead in the form of pomegranate seeds, so that the soul can pass on to the final gate of death. Because she’s jinn, she’s ostracized by the community, so the situation is a bit Scarlet Letter-esque.

She has a young daughter, Layala, who is half-jinn, and the ruler and goddess of Death wants Layala to take over as the new ruler of Death, something Nadine fights hard against.

Layala’s father is human, but he’s dead–somewhat–and stuck in the Waiting Place of death, which is like limbo in this world. He can’t be with the living, but he hasn’t passed on to the final gate of death, either, so he’s stuck.

What’s pushing the story forward is that Layala dies and there’s no good way to resurrect her, but Nadine will do everything in her power to bring her daughter back to life, sacrificing anything and anyone.

BD: How would you describe your creative process in bringing this incredible world and characters to life on the page?

RH: Thank you for thinking my characters are incredible. Actually, Illyas is built from pieces of the personalities of my dad and husband, so he’s one of my favorite characters. Layala is probably a piece of my stubborn teenage self, and Nadine’s love for Layala comes heavily from the warm love I get from my own mother.

When I sat down to write The Jinn Daughter, I’d just finished reading Tahereh Mafi’s Whichwood, and I loved the idea of passing on the dead.

One major core of the story is bringing in the oral history and traditions of the true Hakawati — the oral storytellers in Syria and the Levant. There’s still the oldest coffeehouse in Damascus, Syria, called the Nawfara Cafe that keeps this tradition alive.

I drew from oral stories my dad passed on to me — some of the tales interwoven into the larger narrative within The Jinn Daughter, like the King of Gamblers and the Lion and the Red Jewel were pulled directly from those same stories he told me.

Another core is family and grief. I wrote this book in the midst of great grief in my life — grief I still carry. Every character in the book holds their own grief and pain, with some being buried under the pain and others learning to accept it.

BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Nadine’s story may connect with and impact readers?

RH: Nadine is stubborn. She’s a worrier. She’s in this Waiting Place of her own in the sense she’s in perpetual grief, and is afraid of more grief. She also loves fiercely. I think a lot of readers feel that way about themselves. They’re strong, resilient, and powerful in their own right.
Layala is also stubborn and powerful, but she’s young and a bit too eager to prove herself, mostly to herself. I think readers will relate to that, too, because who among us hasn’t felt the need to prove our power not to others, but to our own selves.

Nadine, though, has growth. She learns to accept and let go, to adapt, to heal from her own wounds and to let go of the pain and emotions that hold her back. As I wrote Nadine’s story, I felt I was growing with her, learning to accept those things that may cause me pain now, but could bring me joy later. Readers may appreciate that, and I hope they do!

BD: What makes Hoopoe Books the best home for this story?

RH: They’re an amazing team. Their goal is to elevate Southwest Asian (i.e., Middle Eastern) voices and bring those voices to all audiences. What they’re doing is great and we need more presses that offer that, and not just for Middle Eastern voices. Hoopoe has respected my story and my culture and their other titles showcase their goals well. If readers haven’t had a chance, I’d say go check out other Hoopoe titles; I’ve been working my way through them and have been enjoying them.

BD: Are there any other upcoming projects on which you are working that you are able to share with our readers?

RH: I am working on a few projects! My current one, which I’m tentatively calling Sang to the Stars, is reminiscent of The Jinn Daughter in the sense of smaller tales interwoven into the core narrative. In Sang to the Stars, I’m bringing in Arab star lore. So often, the constellation/star stories we know are western ones — Greek, Roman — and even being Arab-American, I’d never once heard of Arab-origin star lore. In fact, some star names still bear their original Arabic ones! I think something like 200 stars have names that derive from Arabic. Much older star names originated among those who lived in the Arabian Peninsula, like the Bedouins, who have navigated the desert using the night sky for hundreds (or more) years.

In Sang to the Stars, a young girl named Amur (which means moon in Arabic) lives in the woods with her father, Yousef. One day, an ancient god of death calls upon Yousef to “bury the dead,” which readers will find out means something other than what it sounds like. Amur then goes on a journey to save her father from the god of death, putting herself and others in danger. She may or may not achieve her mission. I haven’t decided yet. But I do think the ending is going to be a bittersweet one, if not outright sad. I’m still working on it.

BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Jinn Daughter?

RH: I hope when readers turn the last page, they feel.

And that those feelings help them find not only joy in The Jinn Daughter, but an appreciation of Arab folkloric culture. We have such a rich literary history, and too often, we never hear about it. I hope readers will come away seeking out Arabic literature and fall more in love with our culture, our history, and our books, and find Nadine, Layala, Illyas, and the others in those stories.

To learn more about The Jinn Daughter, find me on instagram where I have profiles of The Jinn Daughter characters, including what they look like, and snippets of other projects I’m working on. In the future, I may write a sequel to The Jinn Daughter, so news will likely be shared there.

Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief




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