What a book foreword can serve to do in a novel

Writing the Prologue for Dancing Into the Light: an Arab-American Girlhood in the Middle East

By Kathryn K. Abdul-Baki

A prologue can be several different things. It can hint at what is to come in the story, give background, or set a mood. More than anything, it should entice the reader to delve further into the book.

For Dancing Into the Light, I wanted the prologue to bring both the present and the past into focus so readers could see that a large part of the book would be a recollection of a magical past. 

It starts in the present—I am dancing in a Latin club with my husband and friends. A particular song by Harry Belafonte instantly brings back poignant childhood memories of dancing with my father. I imagine my father and mother dancing romantically together in Tehran, Iran, where we then lived. I mention that my father is Arab and my mother is American, from Tennessee, and that both of them are now deceased.

I describe the feelings that ignite in me when I dance to Latin and Caribbean music and I hint that there is a story to follow that will trace my current dance passion—I mention that I presently teach dancing and study ballroom Latin dancing—back to my childhood.

It sets the two themes of the book—dancing and loss—and describes the power that music and dance hold for me, pulling me back to my youth with my parents during a time when we were all together. It also hints that things changed and we are no longer together.

So, in the four pages of the prologue, I try to encapsulate what the book is about, tease the reader with the promise that the story will be both heart-breaking and joyful, and set the mood to invoke the reader’s interest in the story to follow.

In the epilogue, I come back to the scene in the prologue and explain how my last days were with my father before he passed. I wanted the epilogue to be a sort of continuation of the prologue, a coming full circle, to wrap up my memoir’s theme—that dancing during my youth pulled me out of depression and loneliness, and into the light of living joyfully again.