Why Amy wrote Seven Perfumes
In the ’90s, the Israel Ministry of Tourism brought me to Israel with a group of travel journalists to write about the country. There, I learned that the Druze practice “honor killing,” a term I’d never heard before. Galvanized by empathy for Druze women, for I myself had survived a sexual assault and was in an abusive relationship at the time, I began researching honor killing as soon as I returned home. I wanted to know when honor killing got started and where, as well as why it happens – the deep why. I felt a powerful instinct that deconstructing the origins of a cultural practice that seems so barbaric like this could possibly help end it. Soon I discovered at least five thousand women and girls are murdered for honor annually worldwide and most of the killers go free. I dug to find out the deeper causes behind the practice, but couldn’t find anything substantive. One thing was clear to me: As an American woman, I could leave the violent relationship I was in – while most of the women and girls living under the threat of honor killing aren’t so fortunate. So I did.
I built a new life for myself far away from my abuser, and continued on my quest to get to the bottom of honor killing. The journalism and academic research I found reported that the origins of honor killing were unknown, Islamic (which I learned was incorrect) or pre-Islamic. If the latter were true, why did they stop there? There’s a heck of a lot of history before the 7th century AD! Why hadn’t anyone researched it further to find out more accurately when and where honor killing got its start? Surely, I wasn’t the most curious person on this topic out there.
Compelled by this void of information, I started asking people in the honor killing countries about it and discovered that just talking about honor killing was taboo, never mind trying to stop it. It dawned on me that this practice had gone on unabated – and would continue to – because of this conspiracy of silence. I couldn’t even locate in a published source the number of women who live under a lifelong death threat of honor killing as part of their culture, so I calculated it myself: It could be as high as 800 million. At least I believe that is how many women and girls live under extremely oppressive cultures where their choices are not their own and probably most of them could be murdered if they fail to toe the line. With that figure in mind, I was even more determined to grasp the underpinnings of honor killing and expose what I found. Out of that passion, a fictionalized story began to come alive in my imagination.
I managed to set up several extremely rare homestays with the mysterious Druze in Israel and observed and interviewed many of them at length – as much as they would tell me, anyway. At home and abroad, I painstakingly followed my instincts across many disciplines for clues to the origins of honor killing…I researched history, archaeology, mythology, law, poetry, theology, folklore, psychopathology, art, traditional medicine and cultural anthropology. I delved into economic botany, gender violence, reincarnation and the politics of sex. I interviewed dozens of people and perused (and, in some cases, translated) ancient sacred texts and United Nations’ documents. I traveled to Israel, India, Indonesia and Italy for answers. I went to London to see a rare, probably stolen Druze holy book in the British Library. A sensible person would’ve written a dissertation and gotten a Ph.D. but I wasn’t enrolled in an academic program. I was – and still am – just a curious activist-artist.
Slowly, I built a theory of the ancient, lost origins of the practice of honor killing. What I didn’t expect to discover was that honor killing appears to be one of the lingering legacies of a pivotal time of transformation in history that has largely been swept under the rug. I learned shocking revelations that I wish I – and everyone – had learned in school. This inspired a paradigm shift for me both spiritually and intellectually and helped heal my own wounds as a survivor of male-on-female violence. (My discoveries are in Seven Perfumes!)
Coincidentally, I didn’t find another culture besides the Druze that have published in contemporary times that it is permissible to kill for the sake of honor. They certainly may exist and I encourage my readers to share what they know or discover to add to my theory. I am aware that my novel may ignite some controversy, but I think its potential to awaken people and transform the way women and girls are treated throughout the world well outweighs the risks.