Gay Courter
WMBC Discussion Questions


The first thing we did here was send Gay Courter a set of questions at along with some photos of our club, which she answered as follows:

Courter:  The photos are wonderful!  Thanks so much for them.  Your questions are more like “Stump the Author.”

WMBC - What happened to the vengeance of Amar, the Maharajah?  Wouldn’t he have sent scouts out to find Edwin and Dinah to inflict punishment for slipping out under the cover of darkness and duping him? 

Courter:  Not so easy to get around India and his authority was limited to his state.  I didn’t feel
he could really pursue them wherever they went.  And also, Amar really liked them and they did
not hurt him purposefully.  I don’t think they fled out of fear of their lives as much as fear that he
wanted Dinah.

WMBC – Sila’s desk was a big part of the story in the novel’s opening, closing and Dinah’s
adult life.  Might there be some major symbolism to you or to the characters?

Courter:  I am afraid there is nothing too deep here.  I saw a photo of the real Clive desk and it
was so gorgeous I wanted to include it in the book, so I made a big deal of it.  I do love desks and have 5 rolltops here and there, so maybe that’s it.  On my personal rolltop, I have calligraphy labels ont eh side out drawers that read: Ideas, Plots, Romance, Cures, Wit, Hopes, Dreams, & Sanity.  Nice to have them so handy.

WMBC – Silas sent to Dinah “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” by Charles Dickens and we
wondered also if this was symbolic or of more significance in relation to “Flowers in the Blood”
given that both stories had a murder mystery involving opium, lovers and orphans?

Courter: It was a popular book of the era and he was an intellectual.  He was trying to find
something she might like, that might intrigue her.  Like buying something on today’s bestseller
     I am really a very simplistic author and have no way of analyzing my books.  Those who know
me well say the plot is really about my mother’s uncles and their business dealings—but their business was seafood not opium!  Still, I would agree that there is a certain matrix there.  Lots of details mean something to me, but most everything is made up out of the ether with nothing more meant than to tell a story that people enjoy reading but also feel it was worth the calories.
     I’ll stop by next time I am in Maui!  (Actually, never been, but was the Eloise of the Royal
Hawaiian for many months at age 6.  Heaven.

All best,
Gay Courter

WMBC – You’re fabulous for answering our questions!  And you are always welcome to our
island, provided of course that you attend one of our readings…perhaps with your latest book
“Healing Paradise”?  With a title like that it sounds as if fate is truly calling!
     We remain grateful for you inclusion to our discussion and only wish it could have been done
in person.  Maybe next time???




Flowers in the Blood

Q.       Flowers in the Blood is set within an intriguing communitythe Jews of Calcutta, India. How did you get the idea to write about this exotic group?

A.    While researching my previous novel, Code Ezra, I was traveling in Israel. My guide—a former Israeli spy, by the way—pointed out a suburb near Lod Airport and said that it was populated by Indian Jews. Since I had not known there were Jews in India, I was curious about them. When I finished writing that book I asked the librarian at the Judaica Library at the University of Florida (yes, there is such a library, and it is an outstanding resource), for information. The book he gave me about the Jews of Calcutta fascinated me. There was one story, about the murder of the wife of an opium merchant, that stirred my novelist’s blood. What if the daughter of the victim had found the body, what if she had been a small child, what if she had wanted to avenge her mother’ s murder? Once I started down that road there was no turning back. Fortunately my publisher was tantalized with the plot and agreed to support the project.

Q.    Calcutta is not the only place the Jews resided, is it?

A.    No, there were three major groups of Jews in India. The first, and the primary subject of Flowers in the Blood, are the Baghdadi Jews who came from Iraq in the early 19th century. They settled mainly in the urban centers of Bombay and Calcutta, and for the most part were merchants. Their primary language was Arabic. The most numerous element were the Bene Israel. Their origin is obscured. Sane believed they fled the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes around 175 B.C., others believe that they were part of the dispersal after the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70. They adopted regional dress, as well as the local language, Marathi, as their mother tongue. Even their names showed signs of assimilation. The smallest group, never numbering more than two to three thousand, are the Cochin Jews. They are said to have immigrated to India when the Temple was destroyed by Titus. From the fifth until the fifteenth century the Jews of this area had an independent principality or kingdom ruled over by a prince of their own race and choice.

Q.    Did the Jews suffer any anti-Semitism in India?

A.    No, remarkably, India, which has been the hone of Jewish communities for more than 2000 years, has welcomed the Jews, and few areas of the world can match its record. Unlike Jews who went to Europe, those in India were permitted to own and till land. Many of the Bene Israel sect, in particular, volunteered to serve as officers and on the courts of local kings and the military under the British Raj. A Bene Israel was the admiral of Angre, a ruler from India’s West Coast, who built up a strong naval force that fought the British in the 18th century. The only significant case of persecution took place in Cranganore, on what is now the Kerala coast, and this was by the Portuguese. However, they were sheltered by other Indians, including the maharajah of the area who had the synagogue built adjoining the palace so he could personally protect them.

Q.    Why then have so many Jews left India during the last fifty years?

A.    Two almost simultaneous events: the departure of the British from India in 1948 and the creation of the state of Israel caused a voluntary, large scale emigration.

Q.    What remains of the Jews in India today?

A.    In Calcutta there are less than 200 today, as compared to the more than 10, 000 Jews in 1945. Only six Jewish families remain in New Delhi, and in Cochin there are less than a hundred left. There are only about twenty or so synagogues that remain open, nest of which are located in the Bombay area. Most of the Jews of India are now living in Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and Australia.

Q.    Flowers in the Blood refers to opium poppies, and your heroine, Dinah Sassoon becomes involved in the family trade. Wasn’t this illegal?

A.    On the contrary, opium was crucial to the balance of trade during the British Raj, at least until the early 1900s. In fact, it solved their deficit problem. They purchased huge quantities of tea, silk and porcelain from the Chinese, but they had nothing to barter with in return. Then the British discovered that the poppy, which grew wonderfully in their nearby colony of India, bad a ready and increasing market in China. Even better, because the opium was addictive, a supply was always welcome and the price continued to rise. Unfortunately, the Chinese mandarins did not agree that the drug the barbarians were peddling was good for their people, so they declared it illegal. Britain was outraged at the disruption of their profitable trade, thus the opium wars were fought. They bombarded Canton, seized Hong Kong, occupied Shanghai, and ended up virtually forcing the Chinese to accept their poppies.

Q.    How did the Jewish merchants become involved in this trade?

A.    The Sassoons were among several Jewish merchants (the Sassoons in my book are entirely fictional, by the way) who joined with Indian and British merchants (most notably Jardine Matheson) as middlemen. The British owned the rights to the poppy crops, then conducted wholesale auctions in Calcutta. It was up to the enterprising merchants to get the chests of opium into the Inner Land of China and mark up the price accordingly along the way. Don’t forget that other merchants were bringing legal opium to other parts of the world like England (where the artistic set including Coleridge and De Quincy made it famous) and the United States. In the early part of the nineteenth century the Yankee Clipper opium traders included the progenitors of prestigious American families with names like Astor, Forbes, Perkins, and Cabot.

Q.    What part does the poppy play in the drug trade?

A.    Considered both a blessing and a curse, papaver somniferum, the opium poppy, offers wonderful relief f ran pain, but is easily addictive, both physically and psychologically. Dependent users will do almost anything to have it—steal, lie, prostitute themselves, etc. Heroin, which is a chemically treated morphine, is now a massive worldwide problem, wrecking lives, causing death, and yet providing an enormously profitable—yet treacherous—illegal business.

Q.    What is the situation regarding the growth of opium in India today?

A.    At present India is the only legal producer of opium. Other countries, including Turkey, the U.S.S.R., Poland, and Czechoslovakia provide legal poppy straw and seeds for pharmaceutical uses. A United Nations treaty acknowledges the poppy’s medicinal value, while requiring the elimination of illicit cultivation. Most of the illegal production canes from the Golden Crescent of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, as well as the Golden Triangle of Burma, Laos and Thailand. The sane fields of Patna, which Dinah visits in Flowers in the Blood  contribute to the approximately one thousand metric tons of opium used to produce morphine and codeine. Even with all the new drugs we are able to produce using chemical technology, morphine is believed to be the best for the nest acute pains, and if you take codeine, perhaps combined with Tylenol or a cough syrup, you too will have a distillation of the Indian poppy, or the same flowers in your blood.

Q.    Your heroine, Dinah, does not want anything to do with the opium business, yet she ends up running it. How does she rationalize this?

A.    Dinah grows up believing her mother’s murder was due to her opium addiction and yet she is filled with conflicts because her family’s enormous wealth is due to that trade. Initially she tries to stay away from the business, but circumstances bring her into the thick of it. Her conflicts probably mirror many scions of dynasties founded on the profits of an currently legal substances that undermine health, including alcoholic beverages and cigarettes. When she finds out her own beloved husband is addicted, she determines—no matter the cost to the family’s aspire—to prove their wealth to other endeavors.