David Raeburn Finn talks about “The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story”


David Raeburn Finn. Photo courtesy of David Raeburn Finn

Best-selling author David Raeburn Finn spoke to Digital Journal’s Markos Papadatos about his book “The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story”.

He grew up in a military family. Her father volunteered during World War II in the Canadian Army in the United Kingdom and in Europe. His uncle served in the Wartime Ferry Command and then, for forty years, in the CIA. After obtaining a few degrees in Canada and then in the United Kingdom, he taught philosophy at Canadian universities before opening a subcontracting company, an import company, and finally joining a very successful hedge fund.

He has sixteen grandchildren who are all gradually getting in shape. He speaks approximate French and German and even more broken Russian and Pashto. His ambitions include fluency in Russian and Pashto before switching to Mandarin and Farsi. He takes care of his wife full time. He wishes he would still play the cello.

Book Description

Mohammed, a trained and politically naïve Denver surgeon of Pashtun origin, joins US special forces as the frontline doctor in Afghanistan. His faith and Muslim background put him on a secret CIA watch list called the OWL (Others Watch List). Alerted by OWL, his Afghan base commander ‘s suspicions become deranged as Mohammed converses and prays with him, then physically defends the civilian Afghan villagers against the deadly company soldiers.

Mohammed survives a cross-border ambush without knowing it was targeting him. A passing Pashtun family is taken away and fights with him. His operation saves Shahay, a knife-wielding widow in the family who completes two ambushes before sustaining an arterial cut. Shahay’s brother invites Mohammed to their Bajaur home to oversee his recovery.

Greeted like a valued guest, he is drawn to her and her family. His visit unknowingly triggers a private CIA subcontractor operation to uncover Mohammed’s true allegiance. The agents’ task to uncover Mohammed’s motives brings horror to his family and gruesome deaths to Bajaur. The dead will not be forgiven …

“The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story” was a big hit with readers. What was your inspiration for this transformative and captivating story?

I started the story in 2009. I saw two conflicts. First, between 2001 and 2010, the Western press identified “terrorists” in Afghanistan with the Pashtun Taliban. But Taliban interests have carried out suicide bombings against Pashtun tribes. If the Pashtuns were all terrorists, why would the terrorists bomb them? Second, the West aimed to subdue its enemies with money and military violence. The Afghans wanted respect and peace.

In this amazing read, you immerse readers in the war in Afghanistan, which becomes quite a character in “The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story”. What is it about this war and the Afghan people that you find so compelling?

War is always irresistible for the son of a soldier. But this war pitted the rich against the poor, technology against mud huts, whites against browns, B52s against apple orchards.

First, the Afghans waged wars against the Greeks, Persians, Mongols, British, Soviets and Western armies led by the Americans. The Afghans have lost battles and survived all wars. The disparate peoples of Afghanistan have come together to defeat the West through collective patience and wisdom forged over centuries. Their creature simplicity, their shared faith, the celebration of their guests, their safety for the needy, their defense until the death of the family and tribal honor, all deserve respect.

Second, the United States had CIA SAD (Special Activities Division) agents in Afghanistan from 1997 working against the Taliban. He was already planning the full invasion in March 2001, well before September 11. So September 11 was BS. The United States invaded largely based on Russian geotechnical estimates of Afghanistan’s trillion mining assets.

The result was that the Afghan war pitted liars against innocent people.

Mohammed, your protagonist, is a multifaceted character who really draws readers to the story. In this book, your ability to create brilliant characters really shines through. How did you develop this truly fascinating character? Also, what is one of your keys to developing characters in general?

Mohammed is not unique. He is America’s best, politically naïve, generous in spirit and skill, ready and willing to face danger, someone who could be any American, distinguished only by his Pashtun origin and a follower of Islam.

Mohammed’s character was dictated by the reality of Shahay, the leopard’s daughter, the woman he came to love. She is entirely Pashtun: she lives among peoples who can only doubt an America that has brought involuntary and undeserved chaos and death. She is presented as a widow with a child, fighting for her life one moment only to be mortally wounded the next; she is the daughter of a conservative Pashtun Muslim father who would not accept as his daughter’s suitor an unbeliever, a man without personal merit, a man without Pashtun credentials. ‘Mohammed’, the character, needed to meet the reality of Shahay.

The key to character development, following Strasberg, is to create a reality and, following Stanislavsky, to inhabit the characters of that reality.

Mohammed and Shahay embark on an epic, but difficult, romance. What was the inspiration for this part of this powerful story?

I was inspired by the realities of war, medicine and intercultural conflict. How could two people, strangers to each other, survive to be bound more and more closely by fighting and wounds, in a culture where family honor is insulted by the speech or the gesture of a guest expressing too much familiarity

with a girl, in the face of racism and institutional abuse, torture, opportunistic predation in war and the persecution of innocence.

While writing “The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story”, did you learn anything new about yourself?

I confirmed that while I could imagine a story, telling it needed a form and architecture that was welcoming to the readers. I knew almost nothing about these things. I am grateful to Cornerstones Literary Agency and Literary Consultancy and their brilliant editors for providing me with what amounts to a course in creative writing.

I’m sure your fans are wondering, so I’m going to ask you: do you have another book in the works that you can tell us about?

A famous historical incident involving an innocent young woman and a wanted criminal contains a lingering mystery. Mystery is at the heart of my next book.

“The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story” is available on Amazon by clicking here.


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