Why pomegranates?

Before I wrote the novel, I hadn’t noticed pomegranates, particularly. They were slightly astringent, sweet fruits that I could never peel well. And the thought of eating seeds seemed like too much work. Wait a minute. I’ve never really tried to peel one, I thought. I’ve only eaten pomegranates as a garnish here and there. And they have that lovely ruby color. Why not try it? I learned to harvest the seeds easily by holding the pulp under running water, and have enjoyed them tremendously ever since.

And then I began seriously cultivating Eve’s Garden.

As I constructed subplots and tried to deepen the meaning of the garden in the novel, beyond the easy reference to the Bible, I explored possible symbols and came across the pomegranate (Punica granatum) again and again. The significance for my character, Evangeline, the Romani herbalist and midwife, was immediately transparent: The pomegranate is thought to have originated in the region from Northern India to Iran, the area in which our Romani ancestors also originated (India) and then became slaves and forced conscripts (modern-day Iran, or ancient Persia and the Ghazni empire); and it also can be an abortifacient or contraceptive, in the right proportions and in the right combinations. (Do I need to say this is not medical advice? See your doctor, please.)

In these regions, femininity is covered, hidden, and often exploited in modern times, but celebrated in many of the ancient cultures that gave rise to the modern world.

The word “pomegranate” derives from the medieval Latin for “apple,” “pomum,” and “granatum,” or “seeded,” and thus seemed appropriate for background imagery when the rapist-turned preacher Lewis Allen rails against immodesty after an episode from the novel in which Eve, the central character in my novel, and her friend, Beverly, have one of their early experiences with boys. Hypocrisy and horticulture mix well in literary symbolism. (“Punica” refers to the ancient Phoenicians, those intrepid merchants who spread the pomegranate’s cultivation across the Middle East and Mediterranean. The pomegranate is extensively grown in South China and in Southeast Asia, where it spread along the route of the Silk Road, perhaps brought by sea traders .Kandahar in Afghanistan is known for its high quality pomegranates. And the fruit is widely popular in drier climates, such as Arizona and California.)

It is the ancient meaning for “Punica” or pomegranate as “apple” that many scholars believe was at the root of the apple in the Garden of Eden, a location which many consider most likely to have been in the pomegranate’s native habitat of Central Persia.

For me, that knowledge of good and evil is a metaphor for the fruit of the womb, which can be both blessing and burden for women. Which is ours alone to figure out.

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Girls and Freedom

Where I come from, girls are monitored much more carefully than are boys. Still, yes, even decades after the Dinosaur Era when I was a child.

Girls are taught they are responsible for the comfort of others, the ones who will find you that cool drink, the most comfortable chair, the clean sheets. And they are the ones who are admonished to be modest. And ready to be a mother at the drop of a hat.

Taken to its extremes, the message to girls can be the same in South Carolina or Saudi Arabia: You are responsible for how men treat you. Cover yourself appropriately, don’t be loud or boastful or too sexy. And maybe then you’ll be safe from men’s “animal instincts.” (The insult to men is noted!) But control over when and how you have children is pretty much out of your hands.

These days, however, nearly every ad, movie, or product placement screams at women to unleash their inner animal. To show the world “what you got.”

There is a freedom to be found in pride and enjoyment in one’s body. But there is also a line between pride and being eye candy, easily dismissed, a line that is seldom discussed. And modesty can be a tool like any other.

How is a girl to parse all this?

In Eve’s Garden, I wanted to explore this world. To talk about “bad girls” and what they give to us, their friends. To look at what happens when a young woman does put herself first. To examine Louise Westerly’s suggestion, in Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens, that women have to leave the South to earn their freedom.

I do know, from conversations with friends, that many of us GRITS (Girls Raised in the South) and Romniya (Romani women) have pondered whether we would have had more choices elsewhere.

Do girls in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, or Kenya feel the same? I suspect they do, given the news items about the Boko Haram, Malala, and the recent spates of gang rapes in India.

But what will happen to our world, the one we grew up in, to our daughters and nieces and mothers, if we don’t stay and try to make a little more space for those who come after?

This is part of what I wanted to examine in Eve’s Garden. I hope it might somehow, even in a small way, make a difference. In my library talks, especially, I’ll see if we can get a good conversation going on this topic.

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Obama and Opportunity

"What I hope to model is a way of interacting with people who aren't like you and don't agree with you that changes the temper of our politics," he said. "And then part of that changes how we think about moving forward on race relations. Race relations becomes a subset of a larger problem in our society, which is we have a diverse, complicated society where people have a lot of different viewpoints."

President-Elect Sees His Race as An Opportunity

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 19, 2009; Page A01

Stevie Wonder said it: "We have a President who sees us all."
Aretha Franklin singing "My Country 'TIs of Thee."
That moment, so long awaited, that no one can ever take away from us.
Sojourner Truth" "We ain't where we're going but Thank God we ain't where we been."

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