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Squamish author gains international recognition for debut novel

Jasmine Aimaq's 'The Opium Prince' was chosen as an editor's pick on Amazon and listed as one of the 10 books to read in December by The Washington Post.

A fatal car collision depicted in a Squamish author's debut novel bears similarities to a tragic scene from her own childhood.

One of Jasmine Aimaq's literary thriller's key scenes in The Opium Prince, draws from her traumatic personal experience in a fatal collision in the 1970s.

Travelling on an Afghan highway from Kabul to Herat, six-year-old Aimaq was sitting in the back of her parents' vehicle when she felt a tremendous thud, followed by her mother's screams.

A child had suddenly gone onto the road, and they had hit her.

The girl died at the scene.

Aimaq's father, who was driving at the time, filed a police report and found the girls' family.

It's an experience that stayed with Aimaq long after.

"I've often thought about the girl who died in that accident," she said. "I never stopped thinking of her and of some way giving her agency and a voice in her story, fictionalized."

While Aimaq said her father was able to make amends with the girl's family, The Opium Prince takes a similar event and explores what could've happened had things taken a darker turn.

In the novel, one of the main characters, Daniel Sajadi, comes from America on a mission to help eradicate poppy fields. He accidentally hits and kills a young Kochi girl named Telaya in a vehicle collision while on the road.

Her death becomes blackmail leverage for a local drug lord, and Sajadi becomes entangled in a series of events that forever change him.

At the heart of her story, Aimaq says there are two themes.

While demonization of Afghanistan occurred in the aftermath of 9/11, Aimaq said it's important to note people in that country were left with little to choose from.

"One thing I wanted to highlight was that perfectly reasonable people found themselves facing the choice that Daniel ends up facing in the novel — are you going to support the Communists who are backed by the Soviet Union, or are you going to support the opposition, which was Islamist?" said Aimaq.

"And that's kind of all there was. And I think people in the West, particularly, just aren't used to thinking of society that way — of that kind of lack of options."

It also is a reflection on the difficulty of understanding our place in history.

"It's so easy to say you shouldn't have made this choice, you shouldn't have made that choice, but I don't think any of us really know what we are contributing to, and it's easy to be arrogant about it," she said.

"Think about what contributions you made. What you did that might've created major problems for people down the line. Be less arrogant. Be more humble."

Aimaq, who was born in Germany to a Swedish mother and Afghan father, moved to Afghanistan when she was four. She and her family left the country in 1976, two years before the April Revolution.

After some time in London and Hamburg, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Los Angeles. There, she would meet her husband, who is Canadian. Eventually, they entertained the idea of moving to B.C., because her husband has relatives in Squamish.

Both of them managed to get jobs at Quest University, and, since then, they've been local residents.

For Aimaq, writing the book was like giving birth to several children.

The idea started in 2006, and she started fleshing it out in more detail in 2011 to 2013, and, eventually, she completed it in a stretch of writing from 2015 to 2017.

She said she managed to write it during bouts of time when she was freelancing, and her work schedule was more flexible.

Often, she'd work from evening to dawn on the manuscript.

And it's work that's paid off.

The novel was listed as one of The Washington Post's "10 books to read" for December, and Amazon has chosen it as an editor's pick.

Aimaq said she's also exploring the possibility of film options, as well.

She's enjoying the ride, but said she doesn't want to get too caught up in it.

Instead of stopping to bask in the glory, it's full steam ahead.

Since leaving Quest, she's found time to work on another novel while juggling freelancing communications gigs.

Find The Opium Prince through its publisher, Penguin Random House, or through Amazon.