There are many, many different ways to answer that question. Today, I want to give an answer that focuses on patriotism. And not just any kind of patriotism, but passionate, unrequited love of country.
When I set out to write Theodosia and the Pirates, I was a little tired of unrequited love. I had just finished writing the first half of Our Lady of Kaifeng, which is a story about a woman who travels halfway across the world in the hopes of having a conversation with someone she loves, but who does not love her.
It was quite a release to be able to write a joyous story of love that is reciprocated, and in part, that is what Theodosia and the Pirates represents for me. But as I was writing it, I became aware of a theme of rejection that ran just under the surface. And this rejection was not about the love between a man and a woman. It was about being rejected by your own country, or by a country you love and long to help.
How does this theme manifest itself? Here are a few instances:
- Zora Nadrimal, Jean Laffite's grandmother, was a loyal Spaniard. And yet she and her husband were arrested and tortured by the Inquisition, and she was forced to flee the country after her husband's death, never to return. Spanish was still her native language. She raised her daughter speaking Spanish. She spoke Spanish to her grandchildren and educated them in the culture of Spain. But how did she really feel about her native country? What about her behavior inspires Jean to take up his "War Against Spain", an endless vendetta against the country that rejected his grandparents?
- Theodosia Burr Alston was a loyal, patriotic American. Yet her father was accused of being a traitor, and even after he was acquitted of the charges, his name was dragged in the mud. If you open a history book today, Aaron Burr is known for two things: killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and plotting to "separate the Western territories" from the United States. Burr went into exile for a time after his acquittal, but he returned to the United States and lived in poverty and obscurity for the rest of his life. How did Theodosia Burr really feel about the country that could do this to her father, after he had been a revolutionary war hero, had served as Vice President, and had always championed the freedoms of all Americans?
- Jean Laffite, despite being a hunted man, gave the Americans information about their enemies the British that was designed to help them avoid being conquered. What did they do in response? They sent a raiding party against him. He ordered his men not to fight back against the looters, and even after his ships were stolen and storehouses looted, he contributed to the American cause by donating gunpowder and flint, artillery and trained cannoneers, and he fought for the US cause right alongside the men who looted him: Patterson and Ross. Yet when the conflict was over, he was never compensated for what was taken from him, and he was forced to find another place to continue his privateering business. Not content with driving him out of Barataria, the Americans required him to leave Galveston, too. And even when he was enlisted in the Columbian Navy, the Americans were still out to get him. What would you feel toward a country that did that to you? Paradoxically, Jean Laffite felt only love for the United States of America, despite the actions of its government.
Some people feel that everything in life is based on turn taking and reciprocity. It's all you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. But real love, whether it is for a person or a country, is not like that. True love transcends the need for reciprocation.
That's the big theme in Theodosia and the Pirates. It was present in the first book from the beginning, but it is given a final expression in The War Against Spain. Sometimes love of country is so strong, that it transcends borders and rulers. It is like a weed that flowers despite everything that is done to eradicate it. In this sense, the book is a tribute to the triumph of love over hatred.