By Mo Kendall.
We are very happy to welcome Deeba Zargarpur to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release House of Yesterday, out November 29th!
Fifteen year-old Sara thinks a lot about the past; before her parents separated, before her beloved Bibi Jan was diagnosed, before she and her neighbour Sam stopped being friends. Whilst helping with the latest project for her mum’s house-renovation business, her family’s past — and what is locked away in it — begins revealing itself to her in chilling apparitions and other signs that don’t yet make sense.
As others start to witness the spooky appearances at Sumner Court, Sara knows that Bibi Jan holds the key to truths the family avoids talking about. But can Sara piece together all the fractured information she has before dementia takes Bibi Jan forever – or before Sumner itself takes Sara?
In this contemporary YA debut, Deeba Zargarpur depicts the generational grief carried by immigrant families like Sara’s. Gorgeous descriptions and evocative cultural references to food, music and more weave with Sara’s gripping story. We share her journey with grief and loss amidst post-pandemic teen challenges, uncovering the family secrets that she seeks — and discovering what it means to literally confront the past.
Hi Deeba, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to The Reading Corner – and congratulations on House of Yesterday! I loved reading Sara’s story – and those that she uncovers through the book. I’m sure that other TRC readers are going to love it too.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so thrilled to hear you enjoyed Sara’s story. She was a tough one to write.
House of Yesterday is your first novel – how exciting! I was intrigued by how you said in the acknowledgments that writing it “felt like a fever dream”. I wondered if you always planned to write a book drawing on the Afghan-Uzbek heritage you share with Sara and her family?
Honestly, no. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would write a book like this (or that something so personal would end up being my debut novel). So you can imagine my utter shock when I showed my agent a few delirious early pages and she was like “You know what, this could really be something.”
Sara really wants things between her parents to get back to how they were. I felt quite a connection there to the feeling that many people have shared during the Covid-19 pandemic of wanting all the risks and restrictions to end and life to just be “back to normal”. How much of an influence do you think that Covid had on how you wrote the book?
I mostly wrote/planned House of Yesterday pre-pandemic. When it sold it was still in the early months and we weren’t really sure how long the lockdown was going to last. Because of that, my drafting and revision process focused primarily on a “normal” world. In traditional publishing, books need to be finished and fully edited way in advance of publication. I’m sure anyone in 2020 or 2021 writing a contemporary story faced the same struggle I did when it came to the decision of incorporating or not incorporating the pandemic into our stories. I did the best I could at the time, but it was definitely tough (and it did influence some of the details of the story).
I loved learning about the background of the line: “There once was and there once was not…”. Are there other traditional storytelling patterns that Farsi uses?
I love that line too! When working within another language, it’s so hard to fully translate in English the meaning/feeling behind the phrase. I struggled with this a bunch when trying to translate Farsi turns of phrase into English (it’s so true that some things get lost in translation). Farsi is a beautifully poetic language so I’m glad I got to sprinkle a little bit of that beauty into the text. My writing style was definitely influenced by the poetry of Farsi.
I was hooked by the storyline of Sara’s lost friendship with Sam. The book richly portrays various family dynamics too, particularly between female relatives. Did you have a plan for each of the characters’ story arcs, or did they evolve as you wrote the book?
In hindsight, I really wish I had a plan, but I didn’t! I took an exploratory approach and allowed the characters to guide me through their relationships. With Sam and Sara in particular, it was difficult managing the balance in their friendship. In previous drafts, their story veered a little more romantic, and in other drafts, their fights were way more disastrous. Sara’s feelings were always the wildcard (poor Sam), but I’m happy with what made it in the final book for all the characters. For the cousin relationships, it was important for me to ensure in the end, they would always stick together, that was always the one constant.
Sara hopes to study screenwriting. What kind of films do you think she would most want to work on?
She would definitely want to work on mysteries (minus the paranormal, she’s had enough of ghosts for one lifetime I feel). Something solidly high concept (potentially set in space), with a big adventure (and maybe a little bit of romance, maybe 😉).
Your middle-grade book, Farrah Noorzad and the Ring of Fate, is due out in 2024. I’ve made a note for myself and my own middle-grader! How closely together were the two books written – and how was that process for you?
Farrah Noorzad’s journey to publication began long before House of Yesterday. It was actually the first story idea I ever had. I had written pieces of it when I was 18 years old, but the version that sold I started recreating in late 2020, right after I had sent in the first draft of House of Yesterday. Working on both projects, while in different stages, was very difficult. I’m a slow writer and I need to be fully immersed in the project I’m working on, so switching gears took a lot out of me. Once my YA was essentially done, it was easier to go full speed on Farrah Noorzad. I’m really excited for readers to meet her and the rest of the jinn crew!
Can you recommend any other books from similar genres, or with similar themes, that readers might also enjoy?
The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan is an instant go to. Her novel inspired the beginnings of House of Yesterday. We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds is another beautiful YA that is releasing soon too! If you love big emotions and family secrets, I highly rec both of these books.
Thanks so much once again for giving your time to these questions, Deeba. Finally, where can TRC members get their own copy of House of Yesterday?
You can purchase House of Yesterday wherever books are sold but I highly recommend purchasing from Books of Wonder. There’s an awesome preorder campaign happening right now! In addition to getting a signed and personalized copy, you’ll also receive a gorgeous art print, an hourglass enamel pin, and a bookmark. All preorders through Books of Wonder contribute $2 to Education for Afghan girls through SAHAR Education, so it would mean a lot for members to order there! 😊
Deeba Zargarpur is an Afghan-Uzbek American author and editor with a strong love of literature across various languages. Her debut novel, House of Yesterday, releases from FSG BYR on 29th November 2022, with her second novel due out in 2024.
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