Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trevor Cole records Ava Homa for AuthorAloud

Ava Homa

stacks_image_4B744320-CCF7-4D9C-A644-AB672D93D7EB  http://www.authorsaloud.com/fiction/homa.html
Ava Homa reads from her collection, Echoes from the Other Land
Published by: TSARbooks
Time of Reading: 5:34
Ava Homa is a Kurdish-Canadian writer-in-exile. She experienced war as a child and the aftermath of Islamic Revolution in adulthood (Kurdistan uprising, losing loved ones, economic crisis and inflation). Ava has two Masters, in Creative Writing and English Language and literature. Echoes from the Other Land, Ava’s collection of short stories about resistance of modern Iranian women under the oppressive regime, was published by TSARbooks, Toronto. Ava’s writings have appeared in English and Farsi publications including the Toronto Star and the Windsor Review. She was a writer and a member of faculty in Iran. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing, English and ESL.
"Ranging across regions, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and political dispositions, Homa’s characters give us a prismatic portrait of Iran that resists both internal tyrannies and Western demonization. Her style is elegantly spare, gem-solid. This is a voice we all need to hear."
Susan Holbrook, author of Joy Is So Exhausting

Listen to the Reading:
Listen to the Insight:
Visit the author's website

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Review of Echoes from the Other Land by Gavin Wolch

Echoes from the Other Land


Echoes from the Other Land is carefully crafted in a realist style but, when compared to homogenized portrayals of Iran in the western media, the reader’s experience more closely resembles the surreal. For a western reader the conflict of the real and the surreal resonates – it echoes – and does not fade away. 
Echoes from the Other Land is a rare experience. A western reader is confronted not with a didactic tale of oppression or a stark narrative of an alien culture – Iranian – from across the globe. Instead these stories are dry-witted and at times shockingly funny. Echoes from the Other Land is optimistic and driven by characters and dialogue that feel so unexpectedly familiar that their social context is pushed to the periphery. Simultaneously, power builds in this periphery until ultimately crashing into the mainstream narratives. You will forget the setting while your attention is directed to individuals. And you will be reeled back in when the time is right. 
In one story, “A River of Milk and Honey,” a beautiful woman appears before a battle damaged home. With a focus on beauty Homa tricks her audience into confronting the ugly. Slowly and quietly the weight of conflict and tyranny weaves itself deeply into the most personal areas of the protagonists’ lives – but they are so disturbingly used to it the reader is often more conscious of it than they are.
A scene in “I Am One of Them” juxtaposes what can only really be described, without giving away too much that is, as ‘girl talk,’ with the challenges faced by some girls of specific cultures. There is an important realization to be made regarding the distinct experiences of, in this story, Qeshmi and Kurdish girls. However, despite some such components and themes that could rightly be called feminist, do not confuse Echoes from the Other Land for feminist literature. When the narrative is exploring the distinct experiences of these girls it is not because they are girls. It is because they are an organic part of the story. 
For a reader who has lived under tyranny –this one has not- the experience is likely to come with a sense of liberation. The characters, while from ‘the other land,’ are not themselves ‘othered.’ Instead, it is the oppressive regime of a mad dictator that is ‘othered’ as the stories unfold. In this vein Echoes from the Other Land gives a voice to those who may only speak up at personal risk – this is true freedom writing.
There is something Ava Homa said at a “Freedom to Read Week” reading recently in Windsor, Ontario, that stands out in memory: “no invasion, please.” Homa strongly believes that the Iranian people possess the strength of will to overcome tyranny without foreign military intervention, are better off pursuing freedom of their own initiative, and her belief is built quietly into the narration, character development, and the very foundation upon which Echoes from the Other Land is constructed.
P.B. Shelley once said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Likewise, Homa stands firm in her belief that literature is a potent tool of social change - spreading education, unity, and promoting common purposes. What makes Echoes from the Other Land effective is that, while the stories lay bare the daily lives of people in Tehran, Kurdistan and other cities of Iran, conclusions are left for the reader to make freely on his or her own.
Ava Homa’s website: www.AvaHoma.com ; http://ava-homa.blogspot.com/
Windsor reading: http://www.ourwindsor.ca/2011/03/ava-homa-haunting-tales-from-iranian-prison/
Gavin Wolch has a Master’s degree in English and is presently a law student. Some of his literary interests are post-colonial, gothic, and science fiction. A brief list of his favourite authors includes: Wilde, Ondaatje, Coetzee, Rushdie, Saramago, and a trio of Russians whose names you can probably guess. Gavin’s personal literary ambitions are currently on hold while completing his legal studies. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ava Homa interviwed by Patrick Connors for news4u.net

Echoes from the Other Land

May 11, 2011
Haunting Stories by Ava Homa

Patrick Connors – Toronto:  Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa are short stories which do indeed resonate with images of what life is like for women in her native Iran.
I met her at Brockton Writers 17:  http://newz4u.net/?p=11246
“It’s encouraging to have appreciative audience. I could hear that people were listening while I was reading “Glass Slippers” from Echoes from the Other Land. A pleasant experience, indeed!”
I asked Homa what it will take to cause change in the treatment of women in the other land.  “Change in rules, first and foremost. Laws that consider women as half a human only strengthen the male chauvinism. In “the Other Land,” some echoes of which are presented through my book, Iranian women struggle for equal rights while the laws are obviously discriminatory in divorce, custody and so on. This does not mean, however, that all Iranian men take advantage of the unfair system but the point is that they can if they want. This legalized abuse, however, only makes the relationships shatter. I mean just because men have the right to do whatever, doesn’t mean they are happy. At the end, men indirectly suffer from inequality too, either because of their own rotten relationships or because they see their loved ones (a mother, a sister, a friend) suffer and the law only supports this. I think it is for the same reason that nowadays many Iranian men support women movements.”
‘Fountain’ starts with Anis palming a small pink pill.  “Oh, only a temporary relief with tons of side effects which is probably the reason Anis is hesitant and finally throws away the pill,” Homa said.  “Well, there might be some who deal with such situations, for healthy or unhealthy reasons. But, unlike Iranian women, a Canadian woman would have more options. For instance, in case of a failed relationship, the price an Iranian woman pays, in terms of social taboos and rejections, is much higher than what a Canadian woman would pay. The story wants to present the other side of the coin, an insight into what Ali thinks and feels but, of course, indirectly.
“The fountain is the central symbol that connects all other elements of the story. It is a cycle of life, rising up and falling down. As Ali mentions, Anis loves the fountain, which represents her desire to move up in life.  Another woman passing stands by the fountain and enjoys the water dropping on her face. Ali cannot understand the fountain and its significance. Instead, he tries to remind himself how the law sees him superior to Anis only because of his gender. So, when he comes home, he tries to hide his insecurity behind showing off his “power.” Ironically, that’s exactly when he loses Anis.
“Just a quick reminder that the Islamic Republic of Iran by no means represents Islam; even though the name suggests so. Iranian government manipulates religion to stay in power (so do many other groups, I think). I only realized this after I left Iran and met some progressive and amazing Muslims. Anyways, many non-for-profit organizations are really only after profits. Names do not always represent the essence.”
‘I Am One of Them’ has Sana holding a knife in her hand – once again, the reader wonders what she will do with what is in her hand.  But it becomes symbolic by the way women are still cut, in some cultures, by circumcision.  This becomes very powerful and eye-opening to the reader. How does her Sana’s Mother, and other women in general, contribute to the status quo?  “What we are used to is a great part of our lives, isn’t it? Habits are powerful. Therefore, looking for stability, avoiding trouble and given the power that normalization has, people can survive under oppression. The mother and other women might admire a rebel, but as long as the rebel does not get them into trouble.
“Qeshm is a very hot and humid Island. Raining fire is real and symbolic at the same time. Sana is burning and melting in the unfair situation. Even at the critical moment of experiencing epiphany, she cannot say the word “circumcision.” Being too far from the reality of her body, the recognition seems surreal to her. When she realizes that some ordinary, even “holy” custom is horrible, she experiences shock and disorientation. Just a quick note that circumcision is not really common in Iran and happens only in very few cities. “
‘Just Like Googoosh’ seems like a very sweet story in contrast to the others.  It says a lot about the quality and depth of Homa’s writing that she can write from different perspectives, different voices, different modes of relating to one another, while yet making it seem like a streaming narrative.  Still, there is something in the tenderness between the man and his wife which inspires hope.
“Kurdish men are simple and honest,” Homa said. “Diako, the male character of the last story, is in sharp contrast with Ali of the first story. I was hoping to present a spectrum of men starting from Ali who takes advantage of the system, to Diako who is called docile and “not a man” by his own sister, but maintains a beautiful relationship with his wife. However, the question is whether Diako would still stand up to the patriarchal culture if his wife was not diagnosed with cancer. I think men are pushed towards being abusive sometimes without even recognizing it. And, unfortunately, what encourages a man to use his power can be a woman.  Men and women contribute to patriarchy not just men.”
Echoes from the Other Land is available in all major book stores and can be ordered through Amazon.com and .ca as well as the publisher’s website www.tsarbooks.com. People can also easily order the book through their local book stores. All the links to the online shopping, reviews of Echoes from the Other Land, readings, interviews and free excerpts are available in www.AvaHoma.com.
On  May 15th, Homa will read as part of CEPAL (HERE) at Beit Zatoun  (612 Markham St., Toronto) 6:00-9:00 pm. On May 17th she will read and talk to the students of Martingrove Collegiate 9-11 am. June 1 and 15th she reads at North York Public Library Room 1, 2:00-3:00 pm.  Trevor Cole also records her for www.authorsaloud.com. For those readers who like her style, she offers feedbacks on manuscripts and teach some creative writing workshops that are open to public.
Susan Holbrook calls Echoes “a prismatic portrait of Iran that resists both internal tyrannies and Western demonization.”
M.G. Vassanji calls them, “Fine stories, subtle and evocative, disturbing in their impact.”
But the last word goes to Homa.  “A book unlike media is a three-dimensional portrayal of life and for those who want to really understand the complexities of Iran, Echoes from the Other Land presents a real and honest image.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An ESL student's comments on Echoes from the Other Land

                                        Book Report: Echoes from the Other Land
     When I first met a Muslim woman in ESL school, I realized that Toronto was a multicultural city. She wore a long thick sleeved shirt and long pants. Her whole head was covered by her scarf. I was shocked because it was in a hot summer. But I didn’t ask her anything about her clothes and her religion. I knew some people were very sensitive about this topic. I also didn’t have any knowledge about Islam.
     TSAR Published fiction “Echoes from the Other Land” by Ava Homa (October, 2010) became my first novel to know the exotic Islamic women. The scene of seven stories was in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I can’t say that I had only experienced culture shock about the Islamic strict laws and the male chauvinism. I can say that I had felt strong emotions of the female Iranians through this book. In Islam, women had to be submissive to their fathers, brothers and husbands. They couldn’t move freely like their chadors. They were constricted like their tight scarf. But they had their wonderful passion. They cried and shouted how choking they were even though their voice didn’t reach nowhere.
Anis, a brilliant programmer, pushed her haughty husband away. Azar, a young divorcee, was forced to leave Iran and her only soul mate, Reza because people were ridden by extreme prejudices against divorcees. Kazhal, a beautiful woman, was thrown into the abyss of despair for her divorce. Noushin missed her aunt who became an American citizen when she was a child. She wore aunt’s red dress and red silk shawls and smoked while knowing that it made her husband uncomfortable. Sana, who was Qeshmi, was so poor. She didn’t realize that her hometown’s custom was unusual and cruel. Her last choice was sorrowful. She was one of the victims who suffered between their religions and their free wills. These stories were not only tragic tales but enjoyable and hearty episodes. I liked Sharmin who had Down’s syndrome. She was very ingenuous so Azad and Kazhal opened their hearts to her. “Glass Slippers” had a surprise ending and I enjoyed it. I searched the Internet for information on Islam and Iran. I tried to learn from keywords of the book. I saw a beautiful picture book of “A River of Milk and Honey”. It was the Quran story for the Islamic children. I wondered if this book was Sharmin’s favorite. I also listened to“Googoosh”. I knew that the Iranian law prohibited females from singing. Her performance was so passionate and her singing voice echoed in my heart. Now she expresses her song out of betrayal and oppression.     
Last story, “Just Like Googoosh”, gave me the contrastive impression against other stories. Diako who had a sick wife, Fermisk, was different from these typical Iranian husbands of this book. He managed to cheer her up. He hid mirror not to let her be disappointed. I felt his entire love for her. She was faced with her illness and her beautiful hair fell out. He suggested shaving her hair. They tried to think as positive as possible. I thought his last word “Just like Googoosh” was not only her appearance but her life. Even if their life was not easy, his wife had a hopeless illness and they struggled against poverty, they still kept their hope and love. It may be the bottom of this book. Ava Homa wrote Sufi’s Proverb in the first page of this book: “If you cannot fly out of the cage, fly with the cage”. Iranian women’s life was more severe than I thought. This problem was really complicated. I felt that this author would call all Iranian women to stand up like  her. Her words also gave me a hope to conquer all difficulties. I will read this book repeatedly.   


Monday, May 2, 2011

Toronto Star-Re: Letter from a Kurdish exile

Omar Ha-Redeye, Toronto

Re: Letter from a Kurdish exile, Opinion April 25 

Ava Homa’s timely and very important letter should have been front-page news. She urges everyone living in a free country to get out and vote. She is in exile — away from family and friends, “with little hope of ever being able to visit them.” She describes how thousands of people living in the Islamic Republic of Iran have been tortured and killed.
She states, “To me, refusing to participate in the future of one’s nation is a betrayal of freedom. How can any human being ever undervalue freedom?”
I urge all senior high school, college teachers and university professors to photocopy this article for each of their students and discuss it with them. They should encourage their students to make it a habit of reading all political articles and opinion pieces year round in order to become politically knowledgeable — and then of course to get out and vote.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Letter from a Kurdish Writer-in-Exile to Canada


PEN Writers Deliver 'Letters to Canada' on eve of National election

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Wrecking Ball 12 in Toronto marked the first time The Wrecking Ball had the fortune to collaborate with PEN Canada to present the works of Writers in Exile as part of the evening.
It was an honour to hear these letters read in the native tongue of the authors at a Wrecking Ball dedicated to questions of Leadership and Democracy on the eve of a historic election. They are presented in full, in English below:

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
A Letter from a Kurdish Writer-in-Exile to Canada
by Ava Homa
“The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.” Plato
Why vote? Why take time out of one’s busy schedule to study the candidates, make decisions and leave the comfort of home on a cold day to vote? Listen to my story. See if it helps find the answers.
I am in exile, 12 thousand kilometres away from my family and friends, from people whom I deeply love and miss, with little hope of ever being able to visit them. My name is Ava Homa and I have published a collection of short fiction called Echoes from the Other Land. The Other Land is where people are routinely denied and many of the rights you in Canada enjoy.
I speak the same language as Ayub and we belong to the same ethnicity but absurd, man-made borders have divided us between two different countries. I am Kurdish like Ayub but unlike him I was never taught to read or write in my mother-tongue. In my country, ethnic identities are suppressed and the punishment for protestors like my father is intimidation, violence or execution.
When my father was magically released from prison, nobody could bear to look at the scars on his back, neck and head. But the wounds, bruises and blisters were nothing compared to what the government had done to him psychologically. Up to the very moment that I am reading this letter, my father carries around the invisible injuries of torture. We’re not the only family suffering persecution. Talk to any Kurd and they’ll have at least one family member or a loved one who has been executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
My Canadian friend, you are free to openly criticize your government. This is something people in many countries in the world, not just Iran, can only dream about. We have spent centuries fighting, dying to get where you are today and it makes me sad when I see that some Canadians are reluctant to participate in the elections.
In the Other Land, an election is only a game. In 2009, however, millions of Iranians voted for mainly one thing: to get rid of Ahmadinejad. The few other candidates also had a lot in common with the government so we had choose between bad and worse. Nonetheless, we did vote, because we were fed up with cannibals governing us and constantly damaging our country’s international reputation. In July 2009, many Iranian-Canadians took a Friday off and travelled to Ottawa to vote in the Iranian embassy. When our votes were shamelessly stolen, the protestors in Iran took to the streets in millions, asking one peaceful question: “Where is my vote?”
To respond to our question, the Islamic government shut down city lights, blocked the Internet, brought down mobile networks, and issued a curfew. They did not hesitate to shoot at peaceful protesters, or to use illegal force against the demonstrators, such as running them over with cars. Thousands of protesters were detained and tortured; hundreds were executed or placed on death row. Many who did manage to return home were depressed or suicidal, filled with shame and guilt for having been raped.
My friends, you can participate in genuine elections and see the results. Do you understand what that means? You have the power to change and strengthen your government. We are dying in thousands to gain a small portion of that power. To me, refusing to participate in the future of one’s nation is a betrayal of freedom. How can any human being ever undervalue freedom?

Photo by Aviva Armour-Ostroff
Letter to Canada
by Ayub Nuri
For almost half of my life I have had the right to vote, but I haven’t taken part in any elections and I have never voted. I know this is a great right and I should practice it, but in a country where your vote has no value it is better to relinquish and forget about it.
For many years people in my country dreamed of a day when there is no more dictatorship and they can cast their votes freely. That dream came true and in the past eight years there have been elections in Iraq where all kinds of parties and groups participate. But I am still not convinced that those elections are free and fair.
I see so many Iraqis dress up on that day and line up outside the polling stations all smiles and happy. I understand their happiness, but when I see someone like the young man who had voted ten times in one of the elections because the observer at the box was a member of his party, I lose all faith in the process and thank myself for not mixing my vote with those false ones.
Perhaps Iraq will have clean elections in the future and I hope that is the case, but at this time the country’s history of dictatorship is too long and the political, ethnic and religious rivalry is too deep and dirty and unless all that has faded I will refrain from voting.
Now I am in Canada and I see that everywhere the talk is about elections. Wherever I look I see the faces of the candidates. I am unable to vote because I am not a citizen, but I have faith in their elections. I am not sure what the winning party can do and how much of its promises it will keep, but I admire the way they campaign.
Unlike Iraq, the candidates here do not renew old wounds and do not try to turn the elections into a weapon to settle old scores and avenge personal feuds.
I see the candidates here focus more on the future and the fulfilment what the previous government has failed to do. The talk here is about the environment, peace and Canada’s role on the international stage.
Because Canada’s past is not stained with sectarian wars and decades of tyranny, torture and persecution, it is easy for its citizens not to fall victim of emotions and use their vote to punish this party or that.
I am sure Canadians appreciate the democracy that they have and for those of you who take this great achievement for granted, I tell you that millions of people in other countries such as mine, live day and night with the hope of having a democracy like yours.
For the sake of democracy we have paid heavy prices in the past and thousands of people on the streets of Middle Eastern capitals are there to one day have free and fair elections like the one you are having in just a few days.