SR says the book's 16th century setting was a comfortable fit: the kinds of stories people loved in that period were high romances and I thought it right to write a book about that period but also about the kind of characters people in that time would like to read. (And it starts with a man who stows away on a ship and travels to India to court a Muslim King, King Achbar, because the young man needs to tell him a story about a lost princess to the King. Now you and CM have met before, correct?) CM: I had the good luck to meet him a while ago, and how did you turn this history into such good story telling? SR: I think it's the same, whether it's a historical character or a contemporary one, you need to get in their skin and know how they would act and react. (We should also say it was Achbar the Great who initiated religious debates and you portray him as agonizing over religion and over the existence of God.) He had contemporaries who worried he strayed too far from religion and that's what makes him so modern. I think I have some of the same questions about identity and religion: is God a human creation? What happened is Achbar was extremely tolerant and so were his son and grandson, but then after that, his great-grandson was tyrannical so I'm just suggesting that it's just as easy to get the opposite of tolerance. (As you see it, is the quarrel over God, is this at the heart of strife in the world?) I think it's very close to the center of it, yes. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, religion was becoming closer to private life, and that has changed more recently. CM: What's the novelist's role in these discussions about God and religion? SR: I think the novelist can ask the interesting questions, which is what I do with the princess's plotline. So the swing between the narrow mind and the open mind is happening all the time. CM: It seems to me you found a home in the 16th century and in India and in Italy. Was there a sense of liberation in doing that? SR: Yes, it was liberating. This time was a time when people believed a lot in magic. And to live in a world and write about that was very liberating.