Today I’m very excited to be a stop on the blog tour for The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg. I have not had the opportunity to read this wonderful book yet but I hope to soon! If you want even more enticement to read it, please check out my friend’s review for it here at Black Forest Basilisk, they simply can not stop talking about how fantastic this book is and how much they love it. 🙂
Further below is a Q & A with author R. B. Lemberg about language and genre–please enjoy this thoughtful discussion!
Wind: To match one’s body with one’s heart
Sand: To take the bearer where they wish
Song: In praise of the goddess Bird
Bone: To move unheard in the night
The Surun’ nomads do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But aged Uiziya must find her aunt in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana in the springflower city of Iyar, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter, as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother. As his past catches up, the man must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya—while Uiziya must discover how to challenge the evil Ruler of Iyar, and to weave from deaths that matter.
In this breathtaking debut set in R. B. Lemberg’s beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one’s identity in a hostile world.
QUESTIONS ABOUT LANGUAGE AND GENRE
– You once mentioned reading a Russian translation of The Lord of the Rings as one of your introductions to epic fantasy. Also, that you thought it was superior to the original English. Could you tell us about that? How did it influence you into writing and translation?
When I was fourteen, my family immigrated from Ukraine to Israel. The year prior, we returned to Ukraine from circumpolar Russia, where my parents had been living. These moves had to do with the Soviet Union collapsing. People who came to the US at that time were classified as refugees, but there were only a certain number of people admitted to the US. Many Jewish people trying to leave the Soviet Union at that time ended up in Israel. My family did not make the quota to come to the US, but it was too dangerous to stay. It was a scary and terrible time. In Israel I made some friends, mostly other Russian-speaking kids, and one friend gave me an old translation of the first LOTR book, Fellowship of the Ring, which was called in Russian Khraniteli (Guardians or Keepers). The book also had a preface, which explained Tolkien’s linguistic background, and the mythic and linguistic elements which went into LOTR. I loved both mythology and science fiction since childhood, but epic fantasy on this scale was new to me. I loved this book, I loved the translation. None of the other Tolkien books were available and/or accessible to me in Russian at the time, so I started teaching myself English. In the next year, a translation of The Two Towers became available, but I did not feel it was as good as the translation of The Fellowship of the Ring. I continued to painstakingly teach myself English. I bought myself a copy of LOTR in English with money I made from math tutoring, and somebody gave me a large English-Russian dictionary. By the time I was done working my way through LOTR, I could read freely in English, and I was also mostly over LOTR and into what that Russian preface told me about his influences. Soon I began to teach myself Old English, Old Norse, and anything else I could find about historical linguistics, and the rest is history. In college, I connected with some other linguists who found their way to linguistics through LOTR, so there was a kind of second wave of LOTR interest for me, but I still prefer the original epics. As for translations, during Soviet times, many incredible writers worked as translators – many censored writers earned their living this way. I have recently begun to write academically about translation studies and SFF, and plan to keep doing that for a while.
– It’s rare to see elderly protagonists in high fantasy– they’re usually side characters. nen-sasaïr was a side character in the preceding story “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.” What made you decide to feature 60-year-old Uiziya and nen-sasaïr?
I think this was always their story, I just could not approach them directly before I told the first two parts of the story. It gave me the scaffolding I needed to approach what I see the heart of the story, which is about how our beloved cultures and loved ones may constrict us, may keep us prisoner even as they love us, or at least say they love us. The perspective of older people is very important to me. We have so many stories about younger people, that it almost feels like the process of self-discovery and embracing one’s identity is exclusively the business of youth. Don’t get me wrong, one’s teens and twenties are a prime time for self-discovery, and there is a very good reason why so many stories focus on this age group. YA is very important, and especially wonderful right now. Still, though, I feel that for people who have been oppressed, closeted, abused, denied their identity for any reason, it is important to know that it is never too late to move into your full triumphant self. But it is not the same process later in life. We need these stories. I need these stories, as a person coming from a deeply anti-LGBTQIA+ cultural context. Fiction should reflect our stories, and I feel passionately about both trans and queer rep, neuratypical rep, and rep of people of all ages. My characters run the gamut of ages. I hope to write more about protagonists who are older, as well as about middle-aged trans protagonists (and younger ones, of course!)
– Because The Four Profound Weaves is set in the desert, a lot of people are going to assume it’s influenced by the Middle-East. But much of the aesthetic influence comes from Central Asia–could you tell us about some of these inspirations?
I started writing in Birdverse after back in 2010 some critic published a screed on how there’s no Jewish fantasy (a terrible way to frame it, and entirely untrue). There was a good discussion, which pointed out the many Jewish fantasists working in the field. For me, this conversation became a what-if moment. What if there exist a diasporic trading people that worship Bird differently from other people? What if this culture can be inspired by ancient Jewish trade routes? This is how I came up with the Khana culture. The Khana traders come in contact with so many other peoples. And of course, ancient Jewish communities in Central Asia are really important, and I know quite a bit about this history, also from a sociolinguistics perspective. I am very interested in how multilingualism supported and enabled ancient trade. I try not to base anything directly on any Earth cultures unless they are my own, but yes, there’s some vaguely Central Asian-Jewish inspiration in the novella.
– Are there Jewish fantasists in the field writing secondary world fantasy you would recommend in the face of people accusing the field of having no Jewish fantasy?
There are some very interesting recent works, but I am going to step a bit back and recommend Lisa Goldstein’s delicate and thoughtful and important work in the field of Jewish fantasy. I think many of the women working in the field for a long time have been overlooked recently, and I feel that Lisa deserves more attention. She’s also a wonderful person. Tachyon has published some of her work, including recently, and you should give it a try! I’m also going to recommend Sonya Taaffe, who writes poetry and short stories which might or might not be secondary world, who knows, but they are Jewish and mythic and wonderful.
About the Author
R. B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their stories and poems have appeared in Lightspeed Magazine’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, and many other venues. R.B.’s work has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards. You can find more of their work on their Patreon (patreon.com/rblemberg) and a full bio at rblemberg.net
About the Birdverse
The Birdverse is the creation of fantasy author R. B. Lemberg. It is a complex, culturally diverse world, with a range of LGBTQIA characters and different family configurations. Named after its deity, Bird, Birdverse works have been nominated for the Nebula award, longlisted for the Hugo award and the Tiptree award, placed in the Rhysling award, won the Strange Horizons readers’ poll, and more. The Four Profound Weaves is the first full-length work set in the Birdverse.
Praise for The Four Profound Weaves
—Isaac R. Fellman, author of Lambda winner The Breath of the Sun
“Nobody in fantasy is doing what R. B. Lemberg is doing. Let this be your introduction to R. B.’s world of song
carpets, deepnames, and deserts full of roving lovers.”
—Julia Rios, Hugo Award-winning editor
“Lemberg weaves a gripping tale of community, identity, betrayal, and hope. From the sweeping expanse of the desert
to the confined splendor of a sinister palace, every page contains wonder. I flew through the story, breathless, needing
to see what would come next, and I was rewarded with every twist in the narrative.”
—C. S. E. Cooney, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans, Stories
“Over the years, R. B. Lemberg, in their prose and poetry alike, has built a world of serpents, deserts, stars, and bones,
where transformation is omnipresent and restlessness rewarded. The Four Profound Weaves is a jewel-bright tile in
their ongoing mosaic.”
—Nino Cipri, author of Dzanc Prize-winning Homesick
“Reading the first pages of The Four Profound Weaves feels like being invited into the home of a beautiful stranger. It’s
a fantastic alchemy on Lemberg’s part, and their love and labor shines off the page. This was a story I didn’t know I
Thanks much to Tachyon Publications for organizing this blog tour! The Four Profound Weaves by R. B. Lemberg will be out for your enjoyment on September 1st 2020! Have you read this one yet? If so, what did you think? If you’re planning to check it out, I’d love to know your thoughts as well! Please leave a note in the comments, I’d love to chat!