I love history and historical research. I also enjoy exploring art museums, those repositories of history in the form of cultural artifacts. That's how my latest novel, RETURN OF THE SHADE, began, in an exploration of an exhibition of ancient Persian art at the British Museum that was filled with... show more
I love history and historical research. I also enjoy exploring art museums, those repositories of history in the form of cultural artifacts. That's how my latest novel, RETURN OF THE SHADE, began, in an exploration of an exhibition of ancient Persian art at the British Museum that was filled with mosaics and relics of the ancient Persian Empire. That's where I discovered a mysterious queen named Parysatis.Parysatis lived for about 60 years from around 444 to 384 BC, the peak of power for the Persian Empire. OK, I know what you're thinking: "Why bother? Why pluck this woman from the dustbin of ancient history? For goodness sakes, she wasn't even a Greek!" No, not Greek. She was the purist strain of Persian, a direct descendent of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty and of the Persian Empire--a dynasty that brought stability, prosperity and a flourishing civilization to what we now call the Middle East. At its greatest, the Persian Empire extended from the Indus River to North Africa, from the Aral Sea to the Persian Gulf, one million square miles in all.The head and heart of this Empire was the so-called "land of two rivers", the Euphrates and the Tigris, between which the cradle of civilization was rocked. The United States has for many years suffered from its ignorance of this land and its people. A side benefit of research for this book was to fill in some of my personal knowledge gap. Readers of my story will similarly benefit. But this was not my reason for creating the novel. The Persian Empire had everything under the sun. Everything, that is, except a single historian to preserve for posterity its highs and lows. Herodotus, much later recognized as the father of history, was just making a name for himself at that time, and that name was Greek. As seen through his eyes, and those of other Greek historians, the Persians were weak and effeminate. Their empire became a barbaric and despotic foil against which the courage, discipline, democracy, and culture of the Greek civilization was set. And so, it was not surprising that the British Museum, in searching for the best title for its stunning exhibition, mounted jointly with the National Museum of Iran in 2005, used "The Forgotten Empire". Diligently I searched for references to Parysatis in the marvelously efficient computer facility of the British Museum, which links all UK libraries. It yielded not one biography or novel. So, my heroine was the forgotten queen of a forgotten Empire. At first I hoped, and then, gradually, became convinced that hers was an immensely interesting and important life that no one had bothered to write about. By working with the few facts about her that had been recorded by Greek historians such as Plutarch and Ctesias, it was possible--much as it would be to divine an entire puzzle from a few important pieces--to fill in the empty spaces with imagined accounts of Parysatis' life: a life endowed with great power and the instinct to know how to use it; a life fraught with the drama of the Achaemenids, a royal line beset with patricides, fratricides and other wicked episodes so typical of the ruling classes at all points of the compass.