About the Author
Dora Levy Mossanen is an American author of historical fiction. Her published works include Harem (2002), Courtesan (2005), The Last Romanov (2012) and Scent of Butterflies (2014). She is a graduate of the USC Masters of Professional Writing Program and is the recipient of the San Diego State University Editor’s Choice Award.
Dora was born in Israel as the country was gaining its independence. She moved to Iran with her family when she was nine.
Joining a family whose roots went back 2,500 years in Persia, her first inspiration and invaluable source of history was her grandfather and renowned historian, Doctor Habib Levy. Dr. Levy introduced Dora to life in Mahaleh, the Jewish ghetto, anti-Semitism, and the challenges of being Jewish in a Moslem country.
The Islamic Revolution of 1979, the fall of the shah, and arrival of the Ayatollah Khomeini forced Mossanen and her family to leave Iran. They settled in California and became part of what is now the largest Iranian community in the United States.
In 1986, Dora obtained a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of California Los Angeles, and in 1990 completed her master’s degree in Creative Writing from University of Southern California.
Is there a song that really reminds you of your book?
Yes. “Bridge,” a song by Googoosh, a popular Iranian singer tjat reminds me of Aziz and Soraya’s love in Scent of Butterflies.
There’s a scene in the book, where I describe musicians tuning their instruments in preparation of a party in a neighbor’s garden. It is Sunday. A luncheon. Cars are arriving. The band begins to play “Bridge,” an old song of Googoosh. “Help me weave a bed of flowers for our innocent sleep of love…help me weave a tent of songs to shadow us…I am not scared of night because you handed me the sun…let our hands be a bridge to ….” I created this scene with a measure of sadness and nostalgia for a time I remember back in Iran, when music was revered, but that might have been forever lost now.
What was the easiest thing about writing this book?
Easiest? Is there anything easy about writing a book? If there is, I don’t know much about it. I wish you’d asked what was the hardest thing about writing Scent of Butterflies, and I’d easily come up with a long list. But for the sake of answering the question, I’d say that although not necessarily the easiest, but the most rewarding, which in a way feels like easy writing, was the way fiction gave me license to give life to my protagonist, Soraya, an exceptional woman who dares act in ways I would have loved to, but never had the courage to act.
Is there a word you love to use?
Yes. Thrust. Yank. Resonate. And many others that I won’t trouble you with, since I make sure to search and delete or change these words once I get to the last drafts of my books. These are the words that resonate with me, so I make sure to yank them off the page, thrust them back into oblivion …. Ok, enough of that. You get my gist.
What is the first book you remember reading by yourself as a child?
I remember my mother getting me a library card in Israel when I was three-years-old. The sad fact is I don’t remember the first book I read, until we had moved to Iran, and even then, I remember reading comic books first, my favorite was Little Lulu, a curly-haired girl, who was a mischievous leader and the first feminist I came to know. But, the first real book I remember reading was at the age of twelve. Are you still considered a child at twelve? I got my hands on Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, but my mother, who didn’t speak English and had read the novel in Farsi, announced that the book was not age appropriate and forbade me to read it, which made me more eager to read it, of couse. Night after night, I’d sneak the book out from under my mattress and read it hungrily, shaking from fear and suspense. Little did my mother know that it wasn’t the classic gothic story of Rebecca that she should have banned, but the cheap romance novels I bought from our corner mom and pop shop that summer, devouring them at the rate of one a day.
How does your garden grow?
My garden grows fast and furious and lush like Soraya’s garden in Bel Air.
Here’s an excerpt from Scent of Butterflies that will give you a pretty good idea: “my garden has evolved into, the lewd excess of raging colors, overpowering scents, and dizzying array of butterflies reminiscent of a whore’s den. A violent kaleidoscope of climbing jasmine overwhelms the gazebo. Rodents nestle in dense bushes, water lilies in ponds, mites in blossoms, and grasshoppers on the birds of paradise.”
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