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Today’s guest is Nafiza Azad! She is a co-founder of The Book Wars, a website dedicated to children’s literature, and the author of the soon-to-be released YA fantasy novel The Candle and the Flame. This book—which she described on Goodreads as being “mostly about women being women in the most fantastic ways possible”—is her first novel, and it will be released on May 14!

The Candle and the Flame Cover

The Strong Woman: Politics of Feminine Power in THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME

My maternal grandfather passed away on the 18th of February. We got the news early in the morning, just after Fajr. I remember my ammi sitting frozen, her back towards us. I don’t know what was going through her mind at that point. I don’t know what flavour of grief she tasted at the moment.

An hour later, two of my dad’s sisters, my aunts, showed up and formed an unspoken and unacknowledged wall around my mother. They stayed by her side the entire day, feeding her, talking to her, helping her with the little rituals that come with the passing of a loved one.

Of the many people who came to our house that day, many of them were women. Time after time, I witnessed the latent strands of a sisterhood spark into life and buoy my mom. This sisterhood transcends language; it is forged from a background of shared experiences, losses, and life.

The prevalent narrative in the West where women of colour, especially Muslim women, are concerned seems to be one of oppression. I freely admit it, in some cases, oppression is definitely the truth. However, despite reluctance to believe otherwise, the truth is female power is not defined exclusively in the language prioritized by the West. In The Candle and the Flame, I wanted to show the kind of feminine power I grew up with; a feminine power that is akin to silk-covered steel. A power characterized by grace.

The majority of the characters in The Candle and the Flame are women; I am fascinated by the multiple ways femininity can be expressed. Fatima is the protagonist of the novel so I will say the least about her as I feel you should experience her growth for yourself. Achal Kaur, a woman in her sixties, is Fatima’s boss. She moved to a new country with her entire extended family, started a new business and made a success of it after she was widowed. Her power does not have the scent of blood but one of sheer perseverance and a stubborn refusal to give in to life.

Aruna is the king’s wife and though she is a crowned queen, she struggles to fit in a family among people who never let her forget she is not of them, that she is an Other. How she defines her strength is distinctly different from the way Achal Kaur describes it.

Bhavya is the lone princess of Qirat, the country in which the story is set. She struggles with feelings of incompetency and inferiority. Her journey towards self-realization and actualization is longer and more difficult because of the unique position her birth places her in.

These women live in a patriarchal society though they are lucky enough to be among people who do not actively oppress them. Just like my mom and my aunts, just like me and my cousins, these women engage in a brand of feminism called intersectional feminism (termed by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw). It is vastly different from the kind of feminism the West recognizes and sometimes differs enough that it is not even considered feminism by them.

However, the idea that the feminism that champions white women and their issues is the same kind of feminism POC women want and need is not just erroneous but also dangerous as it perpetuates the notion that there is only one way to be a woman.  Obviously this is untrue; there are multiple ways of being a woman just as there are multiple ways of expressing feminine strength.

It is this theme that I engage with prominently in The Candle and the Flame. While Fatima does have physical strength and shows it off in fights, she does so infrequently. She concedes to the authority of her elders and withdraws from situations out of respect to their age. She curbs her tongue and tailors her language to be within the boundaries placed upon her by the culture she lives in. Bhavya, the princess, on the other hand, flouts age and authority almost daily. Aruna is always breathtakingly proper and makes her politeness a weapon with which she deals with people who seek to oppress her.

I believe that feminine power is one of the most potent kinds of power there is, especially since people seem to frequently disregard women and what they are capable of. YA fantasy, in particular, has, in the past, paid close attention to and portrayed girls and women who are strong and use swords to prove it. It is time other kinds of femininities and different kinds of strength were given the spotlight. The Candle and the Flame is amongst the many other books being released this year that do just that.

Nafiza Azad Photo Nafiza Azad is a self-identified island girl. She has hurricanes in her blood and dreams of a time she can exist solely on mangoes and pineapple. Born in Lautoka, Fiji, she currently resides in BC, Canada where she reads too many books, watches too many Kdramas and writes stories about girls taking over the world. Her debut YA fantasy, THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME, will be released by Scholastic in 2019.