The Earth Was Hers
By Sam Zadig
Independently published, 2020
The Earth Was Hers, written by Armenian author Sam Zadig (né Sarkis Sevag Zadikian), is a thriller espionage story that follows the lives of three women who are all connected by one common event: a biological terrorist attack initiated by an extremist Muslim group known as the “Evoluti” seeking to gain power and control worldwide. The book begins with Nadia, a young woman living in Afghanistan traumatized by the death of her family in a bombing. Further violence leads to Nadia taking refuge in America, where she is manipulated into becoming part of the Evoluti’s plans. Part two of the book focuses on Emily, an Israeli microbiologist who becomes responsible for creating a vaccine against the rapidly spreading virus designed to exterminate and instill fear throughout many countries. Finally, there’s Tamar, a member of the Washington, DC bomb squad, who has been tasked to help defuse a nuclear bomb before it devastates the US capital. Throughout the book, readers are introduced to the many ways that intense, challenging, and sometimes dangerous situations can be handled, with both positive and negative consequences.
This exciting book is fast-paced, quickly jumping among varying vantage points. We get a glimpse into the inner experience of each character to which others are not yet privy, keeping us wondering when the truth is going to be revealed to all. Rich descriptions also create deeply visceral experiences. I often found my heart racing as I wondered whether or not characters were going to be successful in their endeavors, sometimes life or death. Each cliffhanger left me wanting to read more.
The depth of knowledge that Zadig employed to write the book is impressive. He is well-versed in creating scenes filled with dirty manipulation, intelligent science, religion and art. The book is action-packed and would make a fantastic thriller movie, as it would keep audiences engaged in multiple layers of action, psychology, religion, war, trauma and the immense power of humans.
In a two-hour interview with the Weekly, Zadig—a well-read and educated man—shared his knowledge about religion (specifically his readings on Mary Magdalene), deep scientific details about the virus transmission that occurs in the plot and inspiration from other fields, cultures, art and movies that contributed to the book. Much of it was complex, and each individual topic could likely have been expanded into another book. Following are some of the most interesting points from the interview for those intrigued by The Earth Was Hers.
Dalita Getzoyan (D.G.): Why did you write this book? What was the inspiration?
Sam Zadig (S.Z.): I like movies and military history. As a child, I would make war games on a paper to figure out strategies. I got this from my father. He was an officer in the Turkish army in the early 1940s when he was transferred to Erzerum, which is about negative 20 or negative 30 degrees during the winter. He and one of his friends decided to defect from the army. They came all the way to Syria and then back to Lebanon. This created a special mindset. It’s kind of an inner-family military training.
D.G.: It’s interesting that this book was published during a global pandemic. Was that intentional?
S.Z.: It was supposed to be published one year ago, but there was a delay. [The writing was] not intentional, but meant to send the message of “Wake up, boys. This thing might come, can happen.” And then it became like a prophecy.
D.G.: Can you discuss your knowledge about the psychology of trauma and how that contributed to character development in this story?
S.Z.: My knowledge about psychology is not that great. However, I consider the human – their feelings, the character, the person – and what’s happening. For example, let’s consider Nadia losing her family. The trauma is so strong, like a tsunami. This is how I came up with the character of Nadia. In the 1980s, there was a very special girl on the cover of the National Geographic. I remembered that girl and used her as the inspiration for the heroine. Her name is Nadia, which is not a difficult name for the Western readers to remember. She is one of the first female heroines of the book. And even if you do not like her, you sometimes stop and say, “Oh my God, such a nice, gentle character. What the hell is she doing in this situation?” You feel that she is the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. Actually, she is a victim. Her dream was to establish a small school in one of the small towns of Afghanistan and this, of course, is a negative thing, unacceptable for the Taliban, who live like they are in the Middle Ages. But before starting, she loses all family members. She goes to buy some sambuusa, and there is a bombing, thus [her family’s] and other houses are totally destroyed. And she goes through a very difficult time, like living in a twilight zone. She’s not eating, she’s not thinking, she’s not responding, she’s not talking. You know, the shock is very intense.
D.G.: Why did you choose to write primarily from a strong female character perspective? Why did you choose to highlight women versus men?
S.Z.: The book is dedicated to female wisdom. In Greek writings, this is common. Not as much in other cultures, but they knew that the females had potential and strength, more than what men could think of or accept. Most of our societies are what we call testosterone-dominated societies, and the male is always running the show. For example, in the United States, 100 years ago, women were fighting to vote. All [the current] freedom for the female, the appreciation, and being treated equally came at a price. It took time. Mary Magdalene is a character who represents, in my opinion, the crux of the feminine wisdom. She is the queen. Why? Because she was very intelligent. She is wrongly described by the church. In one way, talking about the female – the wisdom, the courage – I am just trying to contribute a little bit to her memory.
D.G.: What role did religion play in developing the plot and the characters?
S.Z.: I have to give each and every character the privilege of belonging to a certain religion. Nadia is a Muslim in Afghanistan. Of course, she is going to be living according to those norms, in the states or wherever she is. Then we have the character Sam. Sam represents two religions. Why? He is Christian. He is asking the help of the almighty God. But, at the same time, he is a Buddhist, because he is saying, “At this moment, I am also to rely on myself.” Self-reliance and self-dependence are one of the main pillars in the Buddhist philosophy. In Christianity, you are saved by a power that is outside – by Christ, God, angels. In Buddhism, you are saved by the power within yourself. Also, the [plot in the] book is considered to be fate and destiny. What’s going to happen is going to happen no matter how much you plan. If it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. Whether we want it or not, you learn that man is a social animal, man is a political animal, and man is a religious animal, too. You cannot avoid it.
D.G.: Can you share more about Nadia’s character and speak to the vulnerability of traumatized refugees to manipulation and violence when they go to another country?
S.Z.: Nadia’s weak point is that she has a good character. A golden character and a golden heart, as they say. She never thinks about bad things. So, this indicates that this person is automatically vulnerable. We know the bad exists beside the good. If you don’t train your children that there are bad people, that you should not associate with them, they become a very easy victim. She didn’t have that inner force [to see and fight the bad] in her character, and she didn’t question much. She didn’t investigate. She was just a fruit that was ripe to eat. If there was, in my opinion, a strong female or male friend or relative, maybe she would not reach the stage that she did.
D.G.: I was so interested to learn more about the dream sequences at the end of each chapter. They were so poetic and symbolic. Why did you choose to include those and what was their significance?
S.Z.: Dreams are part of our lives, even though we don’t see them, even though often we cannot remember them fully. Some of them we remember fully depending upon how they are affecting you and the subject of them. So all of [the characters], they have their dreams, but their dreams are affected by their goals in life, their culture or religion.
D.G.: What was your favorite part of the book? Who was your favorite character?
S.Z.: Ishaq is the character I relate to most, and he does what I did in the past in high school. I used to help my class in physics tremendously. I started by talking to the girls. There were four or five girls who I knew would never use physics or electricity or chemistry in their lives. But, if they didn’t pass, they would fail, and they might not have gone to college. So, I decided to challenge the educational system. For me, it was not cheating. For me, I wanted to challenge the wrong system of education. If a student doesn’t have that [knowledge in one area], it doesn’t mean that he or she should not have the chance to go [to college]. I said to the girls, look, somewhere in the middle of the exam, I’ll be coming and asking for a pen. I got a piece of paper as small as those papers that are used to wrap a cigarette. I prepared them with the full examination answers on them. In the middle of the exam, I’d say to the teacher, “Oh, sir, my pen is stuck” and ask to borrow a pen from someone. I took a pen from my dear friend Rema. She was ready. I emptied the pen from inside, put the papers [with the answers] in, and gave the pen back! You have to take only half the time necessary for the exam so that they will have the time to copy. Five girls passed the exam. So yeah, I like Ishaq. And I’m really proud I did it. I would do it again without hesitation!
D.G.: What are the main takeaways and themes of the book?
S.Z.: Don’t underestimate the value of females, now or in the future. Just teach your children to treat the females equal to the males. It’s difficult, because in some societies, it’s unacceptable. It doesn’t matter. Change will come. Nobody can stop change. It’s the most powerful universal force. You cannot stop it. Number two, respect these females and show that they have extraordinary talent. If need be, they can perform better than males. Of course, there are some physical differences between the two, but the physical is compensated for by the high mental power. The mind is a powerful machine. And then, a couple of other things. During epidemics, please don’t think it’s an act of supernatural interference. It’s not an act of God. This is science. This is nature.
About the Author:
Sam Zadig (né Sarkis Sevag Zadikian) was born in 1948 in Beirut, Lebanon. He is a 1973 graduate of the American University of Beirut with a degree in environmental health. Beginning in 1974, he was employed in Saudi Arabia which he considers a second home. He has spent the last 35 years as an expat working in the Middle East. He enjoys studying religion and watching historical series on Netflix. Sam is a pancreatic cancer survivor and enjoys spending time with his wife Seta Tchiloian, their daughters Tamar and Sarine and their two rescue cats. He is passionate about teaching others who are facing adversity to use the power of positivity.