By Ava Homa
Review by May Lui
Reading the stories in Echoes from the Other Land, I found myself absorbing and learning perspectives and realities that are both similar and very different from the world that I’m familiar with. Ava Homa writes of a world of urban Iran, a world where women; single, divorced and married; negotiate and navigate a sometimes unfriendly and harsh world of religious police, family, religion, narrow views of women’s sexuality and societal expectations for women.
She does this without using the Western tropes of how Iran is “othered” when white secular Christians write about Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. Her perspective is much needed in the landscape of Canadian fiction, and intensely valuable on its own.
Ava Homa is Iranian-born, of Kurdish ancestry. Her stories suggest her unique perspective on what it means to be marginalized and part of a minority. This is reflected in her characters, who are often nonconformists who aren’t understood by their family and friends.
Each story could be a novel in itself. Each story drops us into a world where we must quickly become oriented, as the narrative is already moving quickly starting from the first paragraph. Homa simply begins each story mid-way through a moment in the lives of her characters, and we need to carefully read to understand the full context and the parameters in which the various characters, all of whom are women in their 20s, find themselves.
In A River of Milk and Honey Homa writes:
People say they hate the Komiteh because they are constantly harassing everyone, but I see that people fear each other more than they fear the police. (page 41)
Themes weave in and out of all the stories; one theme is the tension as well as the interlocking aspects of isolation and connection. So many of her characters are isolated, some of their own choosing, some because of society’s notions of what is “acceptable” for women and others through repressive political and religious systems. Her complex and sometimes troubled characters respond and react against this isolation, as well as their own needs for connection, in different ways, all of which draws the reader into each story.
In Glass Slippers Homa writes:
Yusef has never yelled at you or laid a hand on you, has never bullied you. He knows poetry by heart, cares for spar-rows, feels pity for the fish imprisoned in the small pond ofthe yard, and loves flowers. You love him. (page 68)
In Silk Shawl Homa writes:
I flipped through the four channels. As usual, three of them featured blathering mullahs, and the last, football. I turned off the TV. (page 83)
Another theme that’s very strong in Homa’s stories is told through the young women who are her main characters, and how they chafe, struggle, fight, resist and rebel against the many restrictions in their lives. They drink, they have sex, they pray, they wear the veil, they don’t wear the veil, and they wish for things to be different.
Homa’s characters also want what all young women want: to express themselves separately from what their parents want for them; to fall in love; to be loved; to be good at their jobs; to be happy.
Homa uses very tight, descriptive prose that takes us right into the moment of the story. She describes sights, smells, textures and sounds, as well as emotions, disagreements and passions that cut deeply to the heart of knowing her characters from the inside. She does this with an almost painful honesty, a striking truth and vulnerability that cannot be dismissed or ignored. Homa also moves the reader through lies, deceptions, anger, jealousy, fear, as well as tenderness, kindness and love.
The breadth of Homa’s stories go from a woman in a very unhappy abusive marriage; to divorce; disability; cross-dressing; friendship; the lines between friendship and sexual attraction; self-harm and much more.
Each story ends too soon. We’re left wanting more, wanting some kind of closure to stories which at times feel unresolved. Since that’s how life is most of the time, that’s another truth that is a reflection, an echo.
A wonderful collection from this excellent writer. Recommended.
May Lui is a Toronto-based writer who is mixed-race, anti-racist, feminist and an all-around troublemaker. She blogs at maysie.ca, ranting and raving at any and all injustices and uses the f-bomb regularly. She’s been published in the Toronto Star, Fireweed Magazine, Siren Magazine, in the anthology With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, at section15.ca and rabble.ca. Contact her firstname.lastname@example.org
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Wednesday August 3, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Ava Homa.