A look at T.K. Thorne’s new book, Angels at the Gate.
By Javacia Harris Bowser
As a girl growing up in church, I always wanted to know more about Lot’s wife, the biblical character known only as the woman who was turned into a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom as it was being destroyed.
What was her name? Who was she before she was Lot’s wife? Why did she look back despite the instruction of angels to keep facing forward and moving ahead?
In her novel Angels at the Gate, local author T.K. Thorne imagines the answers to these questions and more. Thorne’s historical fiction spins the tale of Adira, who is secretly raised as a boy in her father’s caravan. As she grows older, Adira rejects womanhood as it threatens her independence and nomadic life. But the appearance of two mysterious strangers, rumored to be holy men or angels, changes everything.
With its detailed descriptions of desert life and in-depth character development, Angels at the Gate instantly drew me in. As I read about Adira’s treacherous quest to follow the “angels” I was a nervous wreck, worried about how she and her beloved dog, Nami, would survive the dangers of the desert and the perils of Sodom.
Angels at the Gate recently won the Gold Benjamin Franklin award, regarded as one of the highest national honors for small and independent publishers. When I read a book and love it, I often want to interview the author. This time, I did.
JJ:What inspired you to write Angels at the Gate?
TKT: The answer to that is entwined with my debut novel, Noah’s Wife, the story of the unknown and unnamed wife of Noah. It’s a nonreligious retelling of the biblical tale, rooted in historical, geographical, and archeological research, with an added dose of imagination, of course. The book had just won its own national award (from ForeWord Reviews), and I was floating from that and not thinking about writing another book. Then one day a co-worker looked at me and said, “Noah’s Wife, huh? What’s next, Lot’s Wife?”
He was just being a bit snarky, but my first reaction to the idea was no way. The biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah was too dark and tangled and had angels making an appearance, which would present a real challenge for a story that did not rely on the supernatural. Fortunately, my brain seems to like untangling things so, eventually, I answered all my objections, and, by that time, I was intrigued and plunged in.
JJ: I assume you did a lot research for this book. How did you prepare for writing this novel?
TKT: When I began researching the ancient Middle East for Noah’s Wife, I was starting from scratch. It took four years to write and research, including a wonderful trip to Turkey. Fortunately, when I decided to explore the story of Lot’s wife, I could build on what I had learned about the history of early religion and the land and culture of the nomad tribes and cities. My husband and I went to Israel, as well. So Angels at the Gate took less than two years to write.
The trip to Israel greatly enriched my understanding and feeling for the land and culture. We visited and talked to Bedouin tribesmen and a desert ranger who took us out into the heart of the desert, searching for a particular location I needed for the story. Another guide bravely drove us into the hills of the volatile West Bank, so I could see the place where Abraham “pitched his tents.” I tried to experience what I wanted my character, Adira, to experience, such as how the Dead Sea tasted—yuk! —and dragged my husband through museums and antique shops and nature exhibits.
JJ: I consider the novel a feminist text. Was this your goal?
TKT: My goal was to explore the perspective and backstory of a young girl who ended up in an extraordinary situation. The only thing I knew about her when I began was that she had a bit of a problem with obedience—the “looking back” thing. But the first words out of her “mouth” were these:
“If the path of obedience is the path of wisdom, it is one not well worn by my feet. I am Adira, daughter of the caravan, daughter of the wind, and daughter of the famed merchant, Zakiti. That I am his daughter, not his son, is a secret between my father and myself. This is a fine arrangement, as I prefer the freedoms of being a boy.”
So by sentence number three, I had a feminist story. Everything from there built on her character and her journey to learn who she was and what she could be and, as her father advised, to ask the right questions. In a sense, isn’t that all of our stories?
Meet T.K. Thorne and other local writers at this year’s Alabama Writers Conclave Writing Conference, for which Thorne is the program chair. The conference, to be held July 15-17 at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, is for both emerging and experience writers. Learn more at alabamawritersconclave.org.