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This summer you’re heading to Paris with Samira Ahmed

Dear Reader, Every story is a journey. The journey of Mad Bad & Dangerous to Know began decades ago when I read Byron’s 'Giaour' and it continued as I perused Napoleon’s journals in a university archive, explored art on two continents and eventually landed on a red tabletop in a Parisian café on Rue Montorgueil where, sitting in slant of June light as the long shadows of summer fell before me, I wrote the first sentences of Leila’s and Khayyam’s story. Byron’s Giaour tells the tale of two men, the Giaour and the Pasha, who engage in a battle over Leila, a young woman in Pasha’s harem whom the Giaour loved, but who was bound in a sack and drowned by Pasha for her betrayal. Byron’s epic poem, influenced by Napoleon’s attempted conquest in Egypt, inspired a series of paintings by Eugène Delacroix-bold, vibrant canvasses depicting this passionate fight to the death. One of those paintings was rumored to have been owned by Delacroix’s friend and fellow artist, Alexandre Dumas whose own Count of Monte Cristo emerges, reborn, from a near-drowning, bound in a sack. Standing in front of the Giaour painting that is on display at the Petit Palais in Paris, I was struck by the fury of the scene. And wrenched with the knowledge that Leila’s presence was totally absent from the poem and the paintings. Byron killed her. I brought her back to life so she could speak for herself. Some scholars believe that Leila’s Byron was not merely a figment of his imagination but inspired by the tragic history of a teen girl who Napoleon swept up into his personal harem and who was later drowned for her betrayal, bound in a sack. Leila deserved her own story and I created Khayyam to find it. A modern teen, Khayyam searches for her own voice, even as she unearths the buried history of a woman who was forgotten by time. Khayyam realizes that for too long, the stories of incredible women have been buried. It’s time we brought them into the light. Yours, Samira Ahmed