Monday, June 6, 2011

Review of Echoes From The Other Land by Farzana Doctor, author of Six Metre of Pavement

When Ava Homa read the short story, Glass Slippers, at the Brockton Writers Series, I knew I wanted to read her new short story collection, Echoes From The Other Land (TSAR, 2011). Glass Slippers is about a young woman who learns of her loving husband's secret. Despite all the clues, she naively believes that the bra she finds in his drawer suggests that he is having an affair. Much of the story takes place in a storage room, a confining and hidden place from where the protagonist and her suspicious sister carry out their surveillance of her street, waiting for the "other woman" to turn up.

Homa's writing is non-linear, seeming to travel in concentric circles, details almost stealthily offered until a full picture of her characters' worlds is eventually revealed. Setting and emotion tie together well; at one point we are in the storage room, then in the thick of memory, back again with two sisters arguing while balancing precariously on electronic equipment, and finally, in a bedroom, seeing the truth with wide eyes. There were a few moments where this style made me work hard as a reader, almost interrupting the story, but in most places its impact was delightful and suprising.

Many of her stories contain themes of tense relationships between Iranian men and women and her female characters bring with them a wide range in perspectives and approaches to the world around them. One character copes with her emotionally abusive husband, while he seems confused about the reasons for his behaviour. A young divorcee struggles with a man who elicits a push-pull within her. A newly married woman seeks emotional revenge upon the husband she believes cheated on her with a relative. The voices are strong, distinct, diverse.

She deftly describes the impacts of living within an Islamic Republic where religious police monitor behaviour. In Silk Shawl, bitter and angry Noushin attends a party and describes a young man's outfit: "He was in a gray shirt and pair of jeans--torn ones, the current fashion. Had he appeared in public in those pants, they would have arrested him in a second. He must have changed here, too. Young men carrying bags of clothing to change at parties! Jailed just for carrying those. It would be awesome if I could hide his public pants."

Her book has been long-listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award.

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