Mary Terzian – The Immigrants’ Daughter

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

The Immigrants’ Daughter is a compendium of memoirs about growing up in Cairo during World War II and thereafter, in a community traumatized by genocide. It is a coming of age story and an effort at emancipation beyond traditional boundaries. It is a story of triumph over fatalism and of accepting responsibility for one’s personal growth, despite prevailing circumstances. Published by in print and ebook formats, the book won a Best Books 2006 Award and placed finalist in the Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards, both in multicultural non-fiction. “The Immigrants Daughter” is posted at, is available online or can be ordered by bookstores through Ingram. It is also downloadable to Ipad.

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born and raised in Egypt in a very conservative Armenian family. My parents were escapees from Turkey where genocide was in full swing.

I grew up in an immigrant community bent on self-preservation. I attended an English High School that opened the horizons beyond the ethnic boundaries. Later on I accepted employment away from home, then country. I lived in the Congo, Togo and Lebanon before immigrating to the United States.

I started writing perhaps about eleven. First I was a closet poet, than I wrote in concealed diaries, in English, so that my parents would not understand. Travel enhanced my interest in writing because it adds zest to a routine life. At first I wrote in Armenian, then in English.

What inspired you to write this book?

The real pain was my mother’s death which left me alone to struggle with the world. I felt emotionally homeless. The steps taken in my life were an attempt to escape from an oppressive environment that limited women’s development. I wanted to overcome the boundaries and prove that it is possible to change one’s destiny. I also wanted to convince desperate women that it was possible to improve one’s circumstances with determination and hard work. The United States was indeed the land of opportunities for me. I joined the company Toastmasters club, which I considered the backdoor to journalism. I was highly encouraged by fellow members to write about my life. After a few awards I was ready. Then I received a USA PEN scholarship which prompted me to get serious with the book. I wanted to prove that the grant was put to good use.

How did you choose the title?

It was a most difficult decision. I went through pages and pages of titles. My PEN USA mentor suggested it. Had I known there were tons of immigrant stories I would have thought of a better title.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Mother encouraged us to read. I devoured books. I was most influenced by poetry. It fascinated me. My teachers at high school encouraged me to pursue writing because I could live within every breathing soul or non-breathing object, like a cat, a leaf or a writer’s desk. I could write volumes about this last one, encumbering desk space further. My business travel to Pakistan where I cooked “My First Chicken” in a teapot for a friend, triggered the writing.

Do you have any writing rituals?

None. I write where and when, in the middle of the night or in between cooking meals, at breaks or at work, in silence or with loud music next door, flying from one country to another or while walking or sleeping. I should, really, be more responsive to the environment if I don’t want to die in a car accident.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

My characters usually exist in life. I have watched them and know their characteristics by heart. I do, of course, change names to preserve their anonymity.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned, from the reviews, and responses that human beings are alike but aloof. They need a writer in their community to express the thoughts they harbor but don’t have the ability or courage to express.

We all suffer in silence for the sake of looking good. “The truth will set you free.” I also learned that a little humor mitigates anger and frustration. I made sure the book contained that trait. After all, most people read for entertainment.

During and after the publication I changed too. I feel self-actualized. I am who I wanted to be. I am still not very outgoing, but a long way from standing aloof in a crowd. The response to the book has helped me grow externally as well as internally, by giving speeches, attending debates, expressing my impressions and coming out with blogs (, under Terzian) and such.

I also learned that marketing the book is much harder than writing it. Marketing is time consuming but it is a necessary tool for introducing the book.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would migrate to the States earlier, choose journalism as my major instead of business, even though I had to change to the latter because of compelling circumstances. I would avoid a ruinous marriage. However, every adverse experience impacted my life for the better eventually, made me more accepting, more tolerant, more compassionate.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

Nonfiction. There is so much to learn in real life. I loved reading books by Erma Bombeck, Frank McCourt, John Gray, Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Middlesex”, Alaa El Aswany’s “The Yacoubian Building” and “Chicago”, Anita Desai’s “The Inheritance of Loss”, Khaled Hossein’s “The Kite Runner,” Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” Peter Balakian’s “The Black Dog of Fate,” the translation of his uncle’s, Grigoris Balakian’s “Armenian Golgotha,” and Dr. Wayne Dyer’s books, among others. As you see, having been in contact with several nationalities working at the United Nations, my choice of books is eclectic.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Originally I had three books in mind. The theme of the first one would be “Where do you come from?” which is also the prologue of “The Immigrants’ Daughter.” For a while I gave up writing a sequel. I have started now with the theme “Where have you been?” which will be about my itinerant life, and my experiences looking for a niche. The third one will be about “Where are you now?” dealing with my residence in the United States and adjustment to a new life. I hope I will have time to complete this ambitious project. I am not a spring chicken.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Draw a plan. Have a theme. Have a clear idea of what your message will be supporting that theme. Plan a guideline – introduction, the meat of your information, conclusion. A plan is not set in concrete but keeps the writer close to the core. If the story takes a life of its own see if you can follow it. Many bright ideas are born along the way and need to be incorporated.

Finally, start advertising your book early. Even spreading intent by word of mouth will keep your readers anticipating. and will put you under the obligation to finish your project. Allocate time and money for marketing. Never give up writing, even if your book or articles do not sell. I am selling articles that were written twenty years ago.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

Those who live in adverse circumstances, immigrants and their children, young adults living in broken homes, underprivileged and ambitious students, women fighting for equal rights and, of course, people who have no idea about the darker side of life, genocide, acculturation, rejection, humiliation, mixed feelings about loyalties and such. The book is an easy and fast read, with humorous moments to boot.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?


Google (just google Mary Terzian)