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Swati Daftuar, The Hindu / August 27, 2011.
Jean Sasson: Telling Osama's story. Photo: Special Arrangement.
Jean Sasson on how and why she wrote Growing Up bin Laden.
On May 2, 2011, one of the most feared men in this century, Osama bin Laden, was killed. In the wake of his death, Jean Sasson's book, Growing up bin Laden, gained further momentum and became the one window into Bin Laden's life that wasn't entirely about his political beliefs and actions. Through Sasson, Osama's first wife, Najwa bin Laden, and his son Omar, tell their story of growing up as part of Bin Laden's family. Entirely unique and palpably humane, Sasson's book explores a part of Osama bin Laden that had been forgotten; an important piece of the puzzle without which the picture of this man can never really be complete.
How difficult was the challenge of separating Osama Bin Laden from Osama, a husband and father?
It was not difficult at all. When interviewing and writing, I followed the same routine. I start with their childhood and spend time finding out everything they can remember: from their first memory until the time we would consider him/her an adult. After I write a chapter, I ALWAYS send it to them to read to see if I have misunderstood anything. It happened quite a bit with this book due to emotions or language barrier. I let the story unfold through Najwa's personal memories. It was clear that Osama was a very serious but nice young man. He was not focused on the usual teenage things but had already started to look at how other countries and governments interacted with Islam and with the Middle East. Clearly, he did not like what he saw. I did the same with Omar, asking him to tell me his first childhood memory and life with his father. I was not offended to discover that the Osama Najwa married was a very nice person. I was regretful when it was clear that he was taking his family and the world down a dark path.
What started this project?
I was contacted in February 2008 and asked to write Omar's story. I was unsure if I was the correct person as I write about women and my readers tend to go for books about women. I talked with my literary agent and she spoke to a couple of publishers. While I was hesitating, I received an unexpected letter from Najwa; a letter from a mother's heart telling me about her fine son and his wonderful qualities. She never asked me to write the book, but it was clear that she wanted me to give the book a chance.
Then I got the idea that the book could be something I could write IF Najwa would participate. My literary agent agreed; I never take on a project until my literary agent is convinced. Omar asked his mother and came back to me with a surprising yes.