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At the time that Lasdun was writing the book, the house was being moved from its original spot next to the road to its current position some distance up the adjacent hill. Lasdun and Davis wanted to get away from the traffic noise.
On the day that I visited, the house was nearly silent but for the crackling of a wood stove; in the late afternoon the power went out, likely the result of a downed line in the wind. Perhaps because some key scenes of the book take place in New York City, it’s difficult to imagine Nasreen penetrating Lasdun’s serene life on the outskirts of Woodstock.
Lasdun says he first met Nasreen in 2003 when she was a student in his writing class at a college in New York City. Thin, dark-haired and of Iranian descent, she was working on the early chapters of a book about a family in prerevolutionary Iran. Lasdun, her adviser, praised her writing in a class workshop. Two years later, she contacted him to inform him about her progress, and he agreed to review her manuscript so that he could recommend her to his agent.
The two met at a cafe in the West Village so that she could hand off the manuscript. According to Lasdun’s book, that uneventful coffee date was the last time that he saw her in person. Their email exchange, however, continued. Meanwhile, Nasreen met with Lasdun’s agent, who steered her to a freelance editor who she thought could help elevate her book to publishable quality.
Over time, Nasreen’s emails to Lasdun increased in frequency and flirtatiousness. She accused him of having an affair with another student; he denied it and told her he was happily married.
Then, after a long period of silence on Lasdun’s part, she wrote her first overtly hostile message: “…f—k you… you’re unethical, an ‘irresponsible hippy’…. You had no integrity with me….”
Then began the anti-Semitic tirade in which Lasdun became a stand-in for all Jews, Zionists, Israelis, even for the Bush administration, and Nasreen became the Arab people, a self-described “verbal terrorist”: “Look, Muslims are not like their Jewish counterparts, who quietly got gassed and then cashed in on it… my people are crazy motherf—kers, and there will be hell to pay for what your people have done to them….”