Naseem Jamnia is joining us today to talk about their novel, The Bruising of Qilwa. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In this intricate debut fantasy introducing a queernormative Persian-inspired world, a nonbinary refugee practitioner of blood magic discovers a strange disease that causes political rifts in their new homeland. Persian-American author Naseem Jamnia has crafted a moving, nuanced exploration of immigration, gender, healing, and family.
Firuz-e Jafari is fortunate enough to have immigrated to the Free Democratic City-State of Qilwa, fleeing the slaughter of other traditional Sassanian blood magic practitioners in their homeland. Despite the status of refugees in their new home, Firuz has a good job at a free healing clinic in Qilwa, working with Kofi, a kindly new employer, and mentoring Afsoneh, a troubled orphan refugee with powerful magic.
But Firuz and Kofi have discovered a terrible new disease which leaves mysterious bruises on its victims. The illness is spreading quickly through Qilwa, and there are dangerous accusations of ineptly performed blood magic. In order to survive, Firuz must break a deadly cycle of prejudice, untangle sociopolitical constraints, and find a fresh start for their both their blood and found family.
Powerful and fascinating, The Bruising of Qilwa is the newest arrival in the era of fantasy classics such as the Broken Earth Trilogy, The Four Profound Weaves, and Who Fears Death.
What’s Naseem’s favorite bit?
There are many things I’m proud of in The Bruising of Qilwa. I love that I decided to put giant mushrooms in the backdrop as the reasoning behind the setting’s economic prowess. I love the descriptions of rainbow eucalyptuses that my main character Firuz and their mentor Kofi encounter. I’m a sucker for body horror and pleased at my use of food metaphors in the midst of it. I employed two of my favorite tropes in the novella, too: found family, and the unlikely caregiver taking care of an unhinged, traumatized girl. I could discuss any of these.
But I’m here to talk about eggplant.
For its small size, The Bruising of Qilwa is a heavy book. It deals with issues of imperialism and colonialism, public health, medical racism, refugee crises, gender dysphoria—I could go on. I didn’t set out to write something so ladened with grief and trauma, but that’s what happened when I inevitably began to unpack the story I was interested in writing, set in a world I’ve long been playing in.
So I knew I had to balance that somehow. Enter: eggplant, aubergine, that one movie that uses the purple emoji to, indeed, mean a penis. There is no metaphor here, though.
One of the most important relationships in the book, if not the most important, is between Firuz and their younger brother, Parviz. Both of them are trans. Firuz is nonbinary and conducted their medical transition via blood magic, with fellow practitioners who were able to support Firuz through it. Parviz, though, only began transitioning as Firuz packed up their family to flee their home country. By the time the siblings arrive in their new home of Qilwa, Parviz only has one recourse for his transition: Firuz. The problem is, Firuz didn’t finish their blood magic healer training and never learned how to do the top-surgery-like spell.
The world I’ve created is queernormative; I am very tired of seeing our real-world oppressions reproduced in secondary worlds, but that’s a rant for another day. As such, the struggles Parviz faces isn’t because there is transphobia in the world. Rather, I wanted to explore the struggles trans migrants might face, albeit in a magical setting. What would it mean for a young teen, recently understanding his transness, to come to an entirely new place and seek gender-affirming care? What would it mean that the methods of that care—blood magic, kept closely guarded by the ethnic group Parviz and Firuz belong to—are limited in their new home for reasons far beyond his control?
Parviz experiences a lot of disappointment, pain, and anger throughout the book. I didn’t want him to be defined by his dysphoria, though, and part of my way to mitigate that was to add in his strong aversion to—well, loathing of—eggplant.
Eggplant is not an uncommon item in Persian dishes, and the world of Qilwa is Persianate. The ethnic group Parviz and Firuz belong to is Persian-inspired. One of my favorite Persian dishes, khoresht-e badamjoon, is eggplant based. (You can follow this recipe, but keep in mind it incorrectly calls the Japanese eggplant, you want to use Chinese eggplant—you’re looking for the long, skinny eggplants for this. My family also doesn’t usually put Persian dried limes unless we’re adding split yellow peas to make it gheimeh badamjoon.) But eggplant is one of those foods that you either enjoy or really, really hate. With its mushy texture and seeds that look kinda like frog eggs, this poor plant is ripe for hatred.
And so was born Parviz’s distrust of the purple fruit. For all this build-up, my backstory is disappointingly simple: eggplant is extremely prolific, and one summer his family just had too many eggplants to go through. Firuz, on the other hand, loves eggplant, which means Parviz sees it more often than he would like.
The reason this little detail brings me so much joy is because of how heavy everything else in the story is. There’s all the stuff Parviz is going through, and then there’s the larger story happening, too. It’s so comical that out of everything, Parviz complains about eggplant. These small moments remind me that even when things feel like they’re going to implode, we might be able to find something else to laugh about, even briefly.
I can’t go all this time talking about food without a recipe, so here’s khoresht-e badamjoon. Unfortunately, in true Persian style, I can only guesstimate at the exact amounts of the ingredients because I learned how to cook from watching my mom.
- 4ish Japanese eggplants (you can use other eggplants instead, but my mom always says the Japanese ones are the best. If you do use a Chinese eggplant, use only one! Those are big!)
- 1-2 medium onions, half-mooned
- 1.25 (a quart ziplock bag’s worth) pounds lamb or beef (stew meat, so leg of lamb or chuck) OR 8ish chicken thighs (can omit for a pure veggie option—maybe with mushrooms or tofu?)
- A normal (6 oz) sized can of tomato paste
- Salt, pepper, turmeric
Half-moon the onions and saute until sweating. Use enough oil to do so and adjust oil when you add the meat. Add meat (if using thighs, skin-side down to render the fat; you won’t need a lot of extra oil in this case). Add salt, pepper, and a few shakes of turmeric (likely around 1 tsp). Brown the meat; if using chicken, let the thighs render out some fat before continuing (about 20 minutes). If you’re using lamb or beef, add enough water to cover it, and let everything cook until tender (anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour). Add the can of tomato paste. Add about a can’s worth of boiling water, maybe two cans. You want the sauce consistency to be fluid but not watery. Mix, cover, keep on low.
While the khoresht is cooking, prepare the eggplant. Peel the eggplant and cut into what feels like reasonable sizes—thirds should be good if you’re using Japanese. Then halve each of those chunks down the middle so it splits open and reveals the seeds. Heat the oil and add the eggplant seed-down into the oil. Eggplants eat up oil so be mindful of that. Add salt and pepper. Flip after a few minutes, when the eggplant has browned some. It should soften pretty quickly; when it does, put the eggplant in the other pot with the khoresht. Salt and pepper to taste.
Now, I haven’t tried this method with this particular recipe, but if you don’t like mushy eggplant, this should help: after peeling and halving, salt the eggplant for 10 minutes, then pat completely dry. (If you find eggplant bitter, try soaking it in ice water for 10 minutes and then rinsing. I haven’t tried that method at all.) That should help crisp up the eggplant and absorb the flavor better. If you put it on top instead of soaking it in the sauce, that should help keep any crispness, too.
Makes 6-8 good-sized servings, maybe? Serve with white basmati rice, made Persian-style. Hope you enjoy!
Naseem Jamnia is the author of The Bruising of Qilwa, which introduces their queernormative Persian-inspired secondary world. They’ve received fellowships from Lambda Literary, Otherwise, and Bitch Media, and were named the inaugural Samuel R. Delany fellow. A Persian-Chicagoan, Naseem now lives in Reno with their husband, dog, and two cats.