Jyotsna Sreenivasan, author of The Moon Over Crete
EvaS: Our guest tonight is Jyotsna Sreenivasan, author of "The Moon
Over Crete". It's a book for 8 years and up, but I loved it. :D Jo,
please tell us about the book. Would you outline the plot a bit, please?
Jyotsnas: Sure. It's a time-travel adventure novel. Lily, the main character,
goes back in time to ancient Crete, where women and men are equal. She has
various adventures there and experiences for herself what true equality
would feel like.
EvaS: Why did you create this world in the first place? What did you have
Jyotsnas: I have always been a feminist. Feminism works for equality between
women and men, but I feel that many people don't understand what equality
is. They can't imagine it. They think if women are "equal" it
must mean women would rule over men. Because the only thing we see around
us are some people on the top, and most others at the bottom. So I wanted
to help children envision a world of equality. I thought children would
be more amenable to influence than adults! :) No, really, I remembered how
when I was a girl. I believed everything I read! So, I wanted to give kids
some good egalitarian values.
ElephasMax: I was just wondering if the choice of Crete was arbitrary or
if they really were equal there back then. From what I know of Athens and
Sparta, I would naturally assume Crete to be the same.
Jyotsnas: I read a book called The Chalice and the Blade where the author
talks about ancient European cultures that were probably egalitarian. Ancient
Crete was the most recent of these cultures. Eventually this ancient Cretan
culture was taken over by the Greeks and it was no longer egalitarian.
Baucis: Jo, I bought 3 copies of your book, I loved it so much. I want to
know, when Lily came back to her own time, did she put that awful boy in
Jyotsnas: Well, we'll deal with that in the sequel! Sexual harassment (that's
what Lily faced in school from one particular boy) is pretty complex and
not always easily solved because our culture has the attitude "boys
will be boys."
Stinger5: Do you think it was because Crete is an island that it survived
longer than most as an egalitarian society? Seems logical, but there's not
much logical about sexism.
Jyotsnas: I don't know. I'm not an anthropologist. We still have not deciphered
the ancient Cretan script. So maybe we will learn more from that.
ElephasMax: You say the heroine is named Lily. Is that symbolic? Maybe short
Jyotsnas: Lily is mixed-race: she is half-Indian (her mother's family is
from India) and half white. Lily seemed like a name that a lot of cultures
use -- Jewish, Indian, Chinese, etc.
Baucis: Glad to know there's going to be a sequel, first book ended before
I was ready for it.
Jyotsnas: Yes, a lot of people want a sequel. My next book, which will be
out next spring (I hope), is not a sequel, but I am working on a sequel
Stinger5: Deciphering ancient Cretan will be interesting to find out because
in my lifetime as a half Greek woman, sexism and abuse is alive and well.
EvaS: Stinger, it's alive and well in all cultures.
Kelt Lad: My question may not really be germane, but is of interest. Did
you select the race mixture to have her fit into the general racial types
supposed to have been on Crete during that time period?
Jyotsnas: No, I assumed the Cretans were white Caucasians. I am Indian-American
and I felt that if I did not mention Lily's race, people would assume she
were white. But a child of any race could have this adventure. At the same
time I did not want to make her completely Indian-American because I did
not want to deal with those cultural issues. So, I made her mixed. (My husband
is a white Jewish guy so our kid would have the same mix as Lily).
Baucis: Has anyone heard whether linguists actually have deciphered Minoan
Linear Script B?
EvaS: I haven't read that they have yet.
Jyotsnas: Gosh, you know more than I do! From what I remember of my research,
Linear A was from the time Lily went back and Linear B was later. Or I may
be wrong. As far as I know, they have not been deciphered, but I have not
been keeping up with that, so I don't know.
ElephasMax: Has your book been well received? I know a lot of "untraditional"
books get bad press. I heard Rush Limbaugh once make derisive comments about
"Heather Has Two Mommies".
Jyotsnas: Yes, it has been very well received by feminist bookstores, children's
catalogs, alternative type publications, etc. Disappointingly I did get
a negative review in an important children's book review publication. The
reviewer clearly did not understand where I was coming from. But mostly
positive. I'm not popular enough for Rush Limbaugh to take a swipe at me!
Baucis: Jo, I ordered your book from Lammas in DC. Brentano's & Little
Professor didn't have it.
Jyotsnas: Any bookstore can order it for you. But yes, the feminist bookstores
often have it on the shelf.
Kelt Lad: Remember some of the early positive children's works were not
too well received. It took Madelein L'Engle several years to break through.
Did she influence you at all?
Jyotsnas: Yes, I love "A Wrinkle in Time"! I'm not much for science
fiction, but I loved her book.
EvaS: Jo, what kind of research did you do for the book?
Jyotsnas: I live near the Library of Congress, so I went there and looked
at this four-volume book written by the main archeologist of the Cretan
palace in Knossos, Sir Arthur Evans. But really, we do not know that much
about ancient (Minoan) Cretan culture. We can only learn so much from pottery
shards. So I had to make a lot of it up. In the book Lily sees that there
is a kind of cooperative economy with the orchards and wheat fields belonging
to everyone. That I made up. But I tried to make it as realistic as I could
without getting bogged down in details.
EvaS: I see. So you read nothing more recent, say by women archaeologists.
Jyotsnas: Oh, yes. I did read The Chalice and the Blade, which is what got
me started and some other books recommended in that book. But in terms of
the actual details of what things might look like, etc., I tried to go to
the actual source. Since I could not go to Crete to tour the palace ruins
myself, I had a video of the palace ruins that I watched.
EvaS: The Chalice and the Blade is a fantasy, though. The reason I say this...and
you know how very much I loved your book...is that often women want so much
to believe that there was once such a society. That we must have had such
a thing. I feel there's really no need to invent it as a supposed fact in
order to ask for equality now.
Jyotsnas: Yes, I agree Eva. The Chalice and The Blade, and also Riane Eisler's
newest book "Sacred Pleasure," give a lot of compelling evidence
that there may have been egalitarian cultures. But what if we find out in
ten years that we are wrong? Does that mean we can never create an egalitarian
culture in the future? Of course not. I wanted to provide a good read as
well as help kids imagine what an egalitarian society might be like. And,
of course, the idea that it once might have existed was too compelling to
EvaS: It's quite another thing to make up a fantasy, like your book. Again,
I loved it and have bought it for my granddaughters. :) But I find nothing
to show there ever was such a time. I find it sad that women must attach
so much significance to a thing which probably wasn't.
Strackb: I'm going to order the book for my son who, to my horror, came
home and said he was glad there were no girls in his algebra class because
"they always slow the class down". Thought I'd raised him better
Jyotsnas: Good, Strackb. Yes, boys have enjoyed the book as well as girls.
Writerdyke: Do you know Z Budapest's children's book about Crete? I think
it's called "Selene, the Bull Jumper" or something close. It's
out of print now, but it was a good story.
Jyotsnas: No, I don't, but I'll look for that.
ElephasMax: I've read some things about pre-patriarchal societies, and I've
read things that say that they can't be proven. However, if egalitarian
societies never existed, then I'm faced with the conclusion that men just
have it in their natures to dominate and that saddens me terribly.
Elephas, I don't think it necessarily means that at all.
Jyotsnas: As I was saying before, there is some pretty compelling evidence
that there may have been egalitarian societies. But even if we don't think
so, I think the human experience allows for a whole lot of variation. If
it was in men's natures to be boors and oppressive, etc., then why does
our culture have to spend so much energy steering men away from "sissy
stuff?" We really drill it into the boys' brains that girls and anything
associated with feminine, emotions, etc. are bad.
EvaS: Jo, good point. Very good point. Excellent!
PLHnews: What about the Philistines? A society of women, per the Women's
Studies Class I took.
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