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. 

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