Maricla Pannocchia, author of Letters from Afghanistan

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? 

I don’t think I have really chosen it. I always had an interest, a call, for social causes. As much as I don’t have anything against books that are aimed for entertainment only, as I sometimes read them as well, I feel I need to write about something that is really close to my heart and that can help people in different ways. 

What have you written so far? 

I have published three books in Italian, the first is a YA novel which tells the story of a friendship between a Jewish and an “Aryan” girl during WWII, told from the “Aryan” girl point of view, and two books about teenage cancer since in 2014 I’ve set up my own charity, which I still run, to support young people with cancer. Letters from Afghanistan is my first novel in English.  

What advice would you give to aspiring authors? 

Anyone can publish a book today, but I think very few people can write. You should write about something that matters to you. Writing should be a process, even painful at times, and not something to become famous, or rich, or to prove to others that you have published a book. Search for your own voice. Use that voice. Dare to be different. Dare to write stories, of whatever genres, that are not out there yet. 

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book? 

Again, it wasn’t a real decision. The ideas for all my novels just came out of the blue. I have written the first draft of Letters from Afghanistan about five years ago, in Italian, and I then decided to translate it into English because I feel the story is really good and has the potential to make many people reflect on the privileges most of us have and how we all can and should do something to make the world a better place, so I didn’t want it to be available only to Italian speakers. I’ve chosen Afghanistan because, even prior to the current events, it is one of the worst countries for girls and women to live in, but readers will find out the novel uses Afghanistan to also shed a light on all the other countries in the world in which human rights are violated and girls must fight to access education.  

Tell us more about your main character. What inspired you to develop this character? 

What sets the book apart from other novels talking about Afghanistan, I guess, is that the story isn’t set in Afghanistan for most of the time and the main character is not Afghan and doesn’t have Afghan roots. The main character is 14-year-old Olivia from California. She has a regular life. She lives with her parents and her older sister, Samantha, with whom she doesn’t really get along. Olivia has all the problems and struggles must teens have to deal with, she doesn’t fit in at school, she likes a very popular boy, her parents don’t support her dream… her geography teacher set her a summer vacation assignment which is about writing emails to a 14-year-old living in a small Afghan village, Basya, who studies at a school founded by a teacher’s friend. That’s how Olivia and Basya connect.

Getting in touch with Basya changes Olivia’s world and helps her see and understand that the majority of people in this world sadly have to face really harsh situations. She’s on holiday in San Francisco with her family, staying at grandpa’s house, and grandpa really helps her make sense of something that doesn’t really make sense at all like war, child marriages, and many other things Basya and the other girls living in the Afghan village have to endure. In the end, when Basya is in need, Olivia must choose if she will do whatever is in her power to help her, or if she’ll turn her back on her. Olivia offers people, especially teenagers, a role model, an example of an imperfect, average teenage girl who finds out we all have the power to help others and make the world a better place. 

Who is your favorite character in your book and why? 

I don’t have a favorite character. I somehow think a writer is like a director of a movie, you can’t really have a favorite character, you must respect everyone and try to understand everyone, even if there are characters in this book I don’t particularly like and I wouldn’t get along with in real life. I surely admire and love both the main girls, Olivia and Basya. They are unique and inspiring. 

If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?  

I would surely cast locally. I would hire Afghan actors to play Basya, her family, and everyone else in the village, and American actors to play all the other roles. I’d love to have Angelina Jolie as a director though, since she has directed movies about war and the force of human spirit, and she has also produced the animated movie inspired by the novel The Breadwinner, which is set in Afghanistan. I think she’d understand how I’d want the novel to be transferred to the screen. 

What is your next project?  

I can’t say it yet, but I have clear ideas about the next book I’ll be writing. It will be in English and it’ll shed a light on another social cause. My aim is to use my passion and talent for writing to give a voice to those we don’t often hear about. I want to travel the world, connect with people and find stories as I go along.  

If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be? 

There could be so many cheesy answers to that, like “ bring peace to the world,” but I think to actually get some improvements we’d need better leaders. We’d need smart, compassionate, loving, caring leaders who actually see the world should be a global and an interconnected one and that we all are equals and we all should have access to our human rights without having to fight for them. Those kinds of leaders, who will hopefully be the young people of today, would see wars are damaging, and situations like the ones in Afghanistan, Syria, etc must be stopped immediately and the countries and their people must be helped to get back on their feet. They’d properly address climate change. They’d work together, they’d discuss together, they wouldn’t waste time talking for ages but they’d act. They’d respect and value every single human life. They wouldn’t put power or money before the lives of other people. 

Tell us something unique about you. 

I don’t know…maybe is that I believe in past lives and in the concept of reincarnation. I’ve had various experiences which proved to me there is something other than life on this Earth. I am fascinated by these things, but I take them when they come and I try not to ask myself too many questions about them. I don’t think we can or should understand much about these topics. Otherwise, we’d remember where we were before or we’d know more about what happens after death. We’ll find out at the right time.  

Want to learn more about Maricla and buy the book?

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