Monday, April 11, 2022

Q&A with Etan Basseri


Etan Basseri is the author of the new children's picture book A Persian Passover. He lives in Seattle.


Q: What inspired you to write A Persian Passover


A: Back in 2019, I thought it would be great for my kids to have a book that focused on our family’s Persian Jewish heritage. While there are no shortage of Jewish children's books, I was not aware of any that really showed the unique lifestyle and traditions of Mizrahi Jews.


In terms of plot, I was inspired by the 1995 film The White Balloon, which features a brother and sister on a special errand on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. 


Q: What do you think Rashin Kheiriyeh's illustrations add to the story? 


A: Her art really brings the story to life. We knew that we wanted an illustrator who could authentically represent the setting in Iran, so when we discovered Rashin we knew we had found the right person.


Rashin added so many special details while capturing the tone, excitement and sense of adventure in the story. It was an honor to have her work on this project. 


Q: Why did you set the book in the 1950s, and did you need to do any research to write it? 

A: The book is based on stories my father told me from growing up in Kermanshah, Iran. Rather than writing a fairy tale inspired by history, I felt I could tell a realistic story that was rooted in personal anecdotes.


My dad's family lived in a small Jewish community where everyone brought their own kosher-for-Passover flour to the synagogue to be made into matzah each year.


Aside from some internet research for archival photography, I also consulted with my cousin Dr. Jaleh Pirnazar at University of Califonia, Berkeley who is an expert on Persian studies, as well as with family members and friends with firsthand experience living in Iran. They helped ensure that I nailed the details. 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story, especially about Persian Jewish traditions? 


A: Kids reading this book will recognize many familiar Passover traditions, and will notice some new ones as well. They may even be shocked to see dyed eggs featured at the seder, which in the United States we associate with Easter!


Ultimately this story is just one more contribution to the big patchwork of stories about Jewish life and I hope families will enjoy getting a little more familiar with Mizrahi traditions and culture. They might even try out a new charoset recipe.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: My next children's book is set in Istanbul, Turkey and will illustrate some unique Sephardic Jewish traditions. I'm part of the Seattle Sephardic community and there is a very rich history to share. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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