Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux

Share |
Ten Questions with Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux

Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux was born in Bethlehem, Palestine, and raised in Jerusalem until 1948, when war forced her family to move back to Bethlehem. In 1951, she was among the 18 girls who petitioned the local government to open the first high school for girls. She went to university in the United States and worked as a teacher in Schenectady, New York, before moving to Ontario, Canada, where she taught for 28 years. The Madwoman of Bethlehem (Second Story Press) is her first novel.

OB:

Tell us about your book, The Madwoman of Bethlehem.

RNM:

In this novel, Amal, the main character, speaks from a mental institution, where she has been for nine years. The story shifts between the present and the past—she speaks of her present, recalling the terrible events in her life from age six to forty-seven, while the past is revealed through the narrative voice. The story is that of a plain-looking woman from Bethlehem, Palestine, who was manipulated into a loveless marriage. Her life becomes more terrible by an abusive husband and a curmudgeon mother-in-law. When her own life was threatened, she snaps, kills her husband and ends up in a mental institution. There she has to struggle to free herself from her sin, and her grudges and hatred against those who caused her suffering. Her redemption comes through the love and kindness of a good nurse, and a good friend and neighbour from her days in Jerusalem. In the end, she finds the love and peace she always craved, and joy in helping the mentally ill women in the asylum.

OB:

How did you research your book?

RNM:

The novel is born from my own memories of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and the unfortunate women I have known. Having visited an octogenarian who was born and raised in Jerusalem at the time of my novel, I was able to get much information about the social conditions and episodes during the Israeli-Arab War of 1948. Also, I read a book on the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, which was of great help in framing my story. It is by no means a political commentary; rather it is the frame within which the story is told.

OB:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

RNM:

When I began to write this story, I did not think of readership. I only wanted to tell the story in the most compelling way I could. Stories of human suffering must be told not only to raise awareness of the level of cruelty and injustices, but also to make people feel the need to better the lives of others. Personally, this story should appeal to all adult readers, men and women alike.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

RNM:

My best writing time is in the very early hours of the morning, when all is quiet and I am alone. I sit in my office, reread the pages from the previous day and contemplate its improvement. Then my creative side goes to work. The screen becomes the stage upon which my characters come alive, and I could hear their voices and see their actions. I remain at the computer often until two o’clock in the afternoon when I feel dizzy from hunger.

OB:

What was your first publication?

RNM:

My first book Mustard and Vinegar, a collection of true short stories from the Middle East, where my ancestors lived for many centuries. These stories recall their indomitable spirit amid the hardships and chaotic times in various countries in that region—Basrah, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Southern Turkey (part of Greater Syria before the end of WWI). This book was self-published in 2001, and was very well received.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

RNM:

I’ve just finished reading The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu Jaber. It is well written and entertaining, while it offers recipes of the Jordanians who live in the eastern desert of Jordan. I’ve just begun reading Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Laslund, a great story so far.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

RNM:

The Stone Angel or The Diviners by my most favourite writer Margaret Lawrence
Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci
The Life of Pie by Yann Martel

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

RNM:

The best advice I’ve ever had is one from one of my professors at Arizona State University, Dr. L. M. Meyers: “Write simply and clearly so that the reader does not need to reread to get what you’re trying to say.” This is perhaps the best advice to any new writer.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

RNM:

After reading my first book Mustard and Vinegar, a former student of mine, now a teacher, wrote to say: “Thank you, Mrs. Mailloux, for writing this book. Whenever I get so frustrated with raising my kids and teaching and doing all I have to do, I remember the struggles of your mother, who had such a difficult life, but never gave up and kept her faith. She is my inspiration.”

OB:

What is your next project?

RNM:

Since I finished The Madwoman of Bethlehem, I have embarked on three different novels. I want to know which one I have more passion for, and found out I’ve got passion for all of them. So I must carry on with one and hope to live long to write the other two.

Read more about The Madwoman of Bethlehem at the Second Story Press website.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad