As a researcher and analyst with an expertise in Japanese politics, Tobias Harris followed the career of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving prime minister, for years. Abe inspired both loyal support and strong opposition, says the Bethesda resident and author of The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan (Hurst, October 2020). Harris says the legacy of Abe’s tenure—despite having a strong electoral mandate and high approval ratings—is about inaction and missed opportunities as much as it’s about positive achievement. “There’s a sobering message about what we should expect democratic leaders to accomplish,” Harris says. “He could really set the agenda in his country, but…our advanced democracies are complex places, and the big sweeping changes…are hard to do.”
With a father from Saudi Arabia and an American mother, Eman Quotah divided her time between the two countries while growing up. In her debut novel, Bride of the Sea (Tin House Books, January 2021), the Rockville author uses her knowledge of both cultures to tell the story of a young Saudi couple in Cleveland who get divorced. The wife vanishes with their daughter, leaving the husband to spend years searching while entangling the extended family in the abduction saga. Quotah wrote the book while working full time as a communications professional and raising two children, fulfilling a dream since first grade to be published: “From the moment I fell in love with books, I wanted to impact people with stories in a way that authors had done for me.”
The connections between her life as a pediatrician and a novelist are clear to Nadia Hashimi. “It comes down to having an interest in the human story,” says Hashimi, who lives in Potomac. “Sitting down with people and trying to get some context for what their situation is, their priorities, their decision-making. All of those pieces come together to determine their trajectory, the prognosis for their life.” Like her other novels, Hashimi’s latest, Sparks Like Stars (William Morrow, March 2021), draws on her Afghan family background. This book focuses on a young girl who survives the 1978 coup in Afghanistan. It’s a story of how she escapes to the United States, rises above the trauma, and years later reclaims a connection with her homeland.
Katherine Heiny says she psyched herself out of being a novelist for years, convinced she didn’t have the patience or skills. Instead, she cranked out short stories. The Bethesda author says she discovered she wanted to revisit the same characters, so short stories became chapters and then her book, Early Morning Riser (Knopf, April 2021). Set in Boyne City, Michigan, where Heiny vacationed with her family as a child and as an adult, it’s about a teacher who falls in love with the local lothario, but a car accident changes everything she thinks she knows about living happily ever after. “For anybody who thinks they can’t write a novel—it’s just practice,” Heiny says. “The more you write, the realer it gets, until it’s telling you it wants to be written.”