Alexandra Lapierre is the award-winning author of Between Love & Honor, the recently published novelization of a real historical incident in which a Chechen Muslim child was kidnapped by Russian soldiers and raised in the Imperial Court. That child, Jamal Eddin Shamil, grew into a consummate courtier and became engaged to a Russian aristocrat. What followed was an astounding tale of love, war, and a clash between cultures.
Question: What inspired you to write this story?
Alexandra Lapierre: I have always been interested in people who have done incredible things and yet been completely forgotten by history. In this case, I found a true story that is not only an extraordinary adventure but also a moving human drama of a young man caught between Muslim and Christian cultures, striving mightily to be part of both. Jamal Eddin’s struggle illuminates what is still going on in a part of the world that tends to be poorly understood. He also fell madly in love with a remarkable young woman, and their tragic, star-crossed tale was also an inspiration.
Q: How did you research this novel? How much of it is based on true events?
AL: I conducted my research by following in Jamal Eddin’s footsteps and going most everywhere the novel takes place. I spent years in archives and libraries, but I needed to go on-site in order to capture the colors and the smells, and to solidify my own sense of the places I would be describing. But I did try to climb into the skin of Jamal Eddin--I imagined his feelings, gave voice to his thoughts--so in this way, it is a novel.
Q: Which character do you most identify with?
AL: I identify with Elizabeta, known as Lisa--Jamal Eddin’s great love. In Jamal Eddin, Lisa found a man of integrity and intelligence, someone who loved her so much that he was willing to give her up. And I think she was worthy of such esteem. Like many of the women I write about, she had spirit, determination, and a sense of independence. Her decision to marry Jamal Eddin could not have been easy: She flouted convention and society to choose the Muslim son of the reviled Shamil. That took guts.
Q: Which books have inspired you most? Do you have any recommended reading?
AL: For his understanding of psychology and the human condition, the works of Tolstoy, in particular Anna Karenina and the less well-known Hadji Murad, which takes place in the world of Jamal Eddin. For rhythm and style, the works of Alexander Dumas. In addition to these classics, I would recommend Robert Massie’s wonderful Nicholas and Alexandra for a biography in the novelistic style.