Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tomorrow, Friday, I will be in Northern Ontario once again, in Minden Hill Cultural Center this time, to read from Echoes From the Other Land and talk about my life and writing. Many locals and cottagers will be present for the event and I look forward to a relaxing, enchanting day in the Highlands and fascinating conversations with the people.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The veteran walked victoriously through the final battle, passed all the deserts, mountains, oceans and landed in the promise terrain. But, this is not the end of the story.
She reaches for the water to satisfy her thirst and realizes that where she expected an ocean, lies only a pond which is not limpid; that its limits are discernible to her tired eyes. She rubs them and looks at the people around her to whom she looks invisible, who don’t like her look and accent, who are absorbed with body and don't believe in the injured soul that she strove so hard to save, who can’t even imagine what a battle-field looks like, who feel the warrior and people like her are mere invaders.
The heroin is a nobody now. Disillusionment and displacement, frustration and loneliness, the old infected scars, the new injuries that scratch the aged ones, and the exhaustion overrun. They can lay destruction upon the veteran in a way that tyranny, oppression and the betrayal of her little army couldn't.
The horror of meaninglessness sneaks under her skin, a temptation to hate the past, present and a disbelief in future runs in her veins. Lost and hurt, faithless and dizzy, she can't find the "self" she wanders around to find. But, no, this is not the end of the story, either.
She takes off her armor and leans against a tree, lets the sun shine on her face, lets the breeze caress her skin, and the dim light of the moon heal her pain. This is her chance to look back at all she has gone through, kiss the hands that has always hold her attentively, realize how deeply she suffered, contemplate the "here" and the "there" and come to term with her homelessness. No, no, the story hasn't ended yet.
Soon, she will recover. Soon, she will stand up again. Soon, she will hold the hands of the enlightened people who look for a cure for human's ignorance. Soon, she will begin to start again. Soon, very soon, she will hold her pen again and will start her subtle resistance....No, this story does not have an ending.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Ava Homa, Minden Hill's 2012 Writer-in-Residence

Ava Homa
2012 Writer In-Residence
   Ava Homa, like many of us, is enchanted with the Highlands and says she is excited to have the opportunity to spend more time here as the new 2012 Writer In-Residence.
   Unlike any of us, she is a writer in exile from Iran. Ava is the author of Echoes from the Other Land which was nominated for the world's largest short story award: 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and placed 6 in the top 10 winners of CBC’s Reader's Choice Contest for the Giller Prize.
   Ava is a Kurdish-Canadian writer-in-exile, with Masters degrees in English and Creative Writing from Windsor University, and another in English Language and Literature from Iran.
   Ava is a columnist for Kurdistan Tribune, and she writes for other journals like Rabble, The Toronto Quarterly,Windsor Review and Offside.  In Toronto, Ava teaches Creative Writing and English at George Brown College. She will be available for consultation on writing, will be holding workshops, and attending local literary events.

Writer In-Residence Program
     The residency contributes to the creation of an active writing community with the intent of adding to the cultural experience of residents, seasonal residents, and visitors. The Writer stimulates the writing culture already alive through creative new ideas and providing encouragement for the writing process. This type of initiative, under the guidance of the Writer in Residence, will provide an opportunity for writers to hone their craft and in turn help to preserve our cultural identity. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Christopher Liu on Just Like Googoosh a story in Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Written by Iranian-Canadian author Ava Homa, “Just Like Googoosh” is a short story made compelling by the arrangement of its inherent story elements. Whereas the other accompanying stories in the collection, “Echoes From the Other Land,” may be tinted with distinct colours of feminist or political commentary, “Googoosh” stands apart by being more focused on the effects of the love between a husband and a wife. Through these elements, namely, the characters, the settings, and the framing of the world of the story, we are led to believe that love isn’t merely just powerful enough to move the world. We can believe that love is capable of creating a world, in that it creates new realities for people, no matter how bleak their actual circumstances may seem. This power to create such alternative states is accentuated by the dichotomous nature of the story, and how the characters within in shape that dichotomy of worlds.
                The story find a protagonist in Diako, a young Kurdish man, married to Fermisk, a young Kurdish woman. They are the story’s two only truly round characters and dynamic characters, and the majority of the pages are spent focused on their interaction and dialogue. Their names are not revealed until halfway through the story, when they refer to each other, as if the other characters were not worthy of speaking them; that they are some kind of secret, a symbol of this very exclusive club of two. Diako is the only character that participates in all the exchanges of dialogue in the story. There is a fruit vendor that is Diako’s primary source of interaction and conflict at the store he frequents, though it may not be real fault of his own; he is simply there to act as a foil in this setting. He offers this conflict economically, charging Diako inflated market prices for groceries, in order to stay in business. The vendor further annoys Diako by keeping a pouch safe after it was left behind – though if it was his intention to keep it, he would have said nothing. Conflict seems to follow Diako around as he makes his way around the store, but much of it is his own fault, as he is actually quite rude to everyone, most likely as a result of being distracted by cell phone calls from his sister Chonour. The author has chosen to not reveal Chonour’s side of these heated phone conversations, instead leaving it upon the reader to divine the full meaning from Diako’s half of the arguments. It is from one of these conversations that we learn about some of Diako’s motivations.
“Who the hell are these relatives anyway? Why do we have to be there for them all the time, when they left us alone after father’s death? Where the hell were they when Mom was in hospital?” (Homa, p.93)
                With his father’s death and mother’s hospitalization, he has seen some hardship and has the present burden of watching his wife suffer from her own illness. It is clear that Diako doesn’t want to go through the ordeal of losing a loved one again, but he makes the most of a terrible situation by showing Fermisk love and affection when they are together. Where the fruit vendor is the host of the noisy, chaotic store, Fermisk is the hostess of the safe, inviting world of their apartment that is free from the other characters that Diako sees as antagonists. Through her love for him, he is transformed from an impolite consumer into a nurturing provider.
                Fermisk faces conflict with her illness. It is through Googoosh, an Iranian pop star popular in the 1950’s to 1970’s that Fermisk find comfort and hope, in tandem with Diako’s affections. Googoosh, in addition to represent the beauty and vocal talent that inspire Fermisk, symbolizes other concepts. Fermisk is homebound due to her illness, as Googoosh is “trapped” in the likely illegal video, unable to perform in public in Iran since the ban on female performers went into effect from the Iranian Revolution. The video played for Fermisk shows Googoosh on of her trademark short hairdos, that Diako uses as a representation of the beauty that he sees for Fermisk, to make her feel better about her hair loss. Observant Muslim women wear headscarves, often for the sake of modesty, but in the case of Fermisk who is already resigned to stay at home, it is meant to hide the sight of her hair loss from her husband. Diako’s determination and resolve come to a head it is clear what he intended to do for Fermisk.
“The silver-white cold metal went on and on. The hair was falling on his knee and on the white sheet. His hands were trembling.” (Homa, p.99)
He cuts her hair using scissors that aren’t explicitly called so, but like with Fermisk’s cancer, are described through their effects on her. Even the act of cutting hair is an affirmation of the couple’s shared intimacy, as it connects them, in the safety of their apartment, apart from the seemingly cruel outside world.
                The storyworld has been sculpted into a dichotomy, as previously mentioned, defined by the settings in which the action takes place. The first primary setting is that of the store, and it encapsulates the chaos of Diako’s life, filled with numerous flat, static characters that challenge his notions of control and civility. When he walks home, and up the stairs of their apartment building, he occupies the transitional setting that acts simultaneously as a bridge and wall between the two primary settings. The second main setting is that of the young couple’s home, where the relative peacefulness replaces chaos, love for another individual replaces disdain for many others, and intimacy replaces impersonal discourse. In analyzing this story, there is the risk that one may overread by trying to ascertain an actual geographical location. Although the author herself is from Sanandaj, in the Kurdistan province of Iran, the story itself may not actually have to take place there, regardless of any peripheral research one may execute to figure out the geography. The name of the city could be deliberately omitted from the story for good reason.
“I know you don’t feel too comfortable in this place but, you know, nobody knows us here and the rent is reasonable.” (Homa, p. 95)
It is suggested that through making the locale unnamed and nondescript, that we are made to be drawn to feel for the couple’s status as migrants of circumstance. They are attempting to distance themselves from unwelcome family members and associates. It is another example of how the author allows to fill in the blanks of the story so that we may come to our own personal conclusions. The timescale of the story also seems to slide, where Diako is rushing around in the first third of the story, as he makes his way back and forth from the store and hurrying home, but spends most of the story, taking deliberate care to slow down with Fermisk at home. This affords the reader an opportunity to share in the intimacy of the moment, without explicitly having to experience it through Diako himself.
                The point of view is that of a third-person narration, of an objective nature. The narrator doesn’t offer any insight into the feelings or opinions of the characters, only acting as a camera following Diako from the store to his home. Without using other methods of voice that give a subjective slant, the story’s emotional appeal must be derived from the other elements that work in conjunction with the pure observation of the events in play. Even the title itself, “Just Like Googoosh,” acts as a framing device – the story begins with the title and ends with Diako whispering, “Just Like Googoosh,” to describe to Fermisk how beautiful he finds her, even with her hair gone. The ending of the open-ended in that we don’t know if Fermisk actually survives chemotherapy, and grows her hair back as Diako promises. Not only do we have the “outside world” and the “world created from love”, but outside the story, there is the “future world” that the reader has to create for himself to imagine such a resolution.
                Through the love shown between Diako and Fermisk, we experience the redemptive, transformative, and creative abilities of love. The omissions in the story symbolize the unspoken bond of a loving couple, and it is from the interweaving of the story elements that help forge a practical definition of love. We are left wondering that if were in Diako’s or Fermisk’s positions, what we would do to demonstrate such love.

Jason Ta on Wind through My Hair, a story of Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

The gripping short story, “Wind Through My Hair”, by Iranian-Canadian author, Ava Homa, encapsulates the reader’s mind into the reality of Iranian politics, the universal concept of love, and the need for freedom. In subtle but provocative ways, elements of the story portray the bewitching nature of corrupt power in the newly formed government of Iran and its hindrance of the citizens’ humanity. Through the story’s narrative elements, specifically, the characters, settings, and symbolisms, we are led to believe that the struggle for freedom and peace cannot be accomplished as long as power and its corruptive nature exists. These elements are used to paint pictures in the reader’s mind to illustrate the regression of a once great nation to its current state of a dissolving civilization.
The majority of the story and its elements are expressed through the setting, and interaction and dialogue of Azar, the protagonist, and Reza, her friend and an important and significant character. The setting, Tehran (mainly in Azar’s apartment), poses an important element of the story because it forms a feeling within the reader’s mind in preparation for the story and narrative discourse. Additionally, it creates certain boundaries of the story world in which it is incorporated and the entities are found and the events take place.
Both Azar and Reza are the only round and dynamic characters throughout the story. In portraying the other characters, the author incorporates a method of dehumanizing (nick-naming) to indicate the degree of importance of them. “I look up the list of the most recent calls I’ve made: Liar, the Charlatan car purchaser; Reza’s is third last.” (Homa, 15) These characters, except for Reza, are depicted to be of lower importance and significance in the story and in the life of Azar just as most of the other characters in the story.
They are flat and static except for “Jerk”, who is flat and dynamic and assumed to be the divorced husband of Azar. Although there is little or no substance in “Jerk’s” character, his behavioural changes poses a haunting effect on Azar as she reveals her past views of love during her marriage which then transformed into passionate hatred. However, the author deliberately omitted whether Azar was still married or divorced. It was for good reason so that the reader may colour in the blanks with their interpretation of the meaning. This suggests that there is still attachment to a part of her marriage that proposed freedom and that her internal conflicts were seeded from the aftermath of this relationship. “Jerk was a good husband […] why then do normal things lead me over the edge? […] I devoted three years of my life to him, who was a dream man and was crazy about me, and who ended up … a vampire.” (Homa, 31)
There are multiple conflicts demonstrated in the story by the interaction and dialogue between Azar and Reza. The Internal vs. External conflict is Azar’s (and the women of Iran) struggle for freedom from the imprisonment of Iran’s laws and the judgement by people conforming to them.  “Turning my back at the window that opens to a city where twelve million people live […] I’m somebody that other women fear because they think I’ll seduce their men […].” (Homa, 29) Make no mistake, it is not that other women fear Azar, but the consequences heeded out by the government and the constraints of marriage if they were to be like her. This also indicates that the desirability, independence, and ‘higher’ degree of freedom of Azar are envied by the other women.
Another external conflict begins with Reza’s abrupt discussion with Azar about his insights on relationships while he attempts to cross the bridge from being a friend to a lover demonstrates his naivety and inexperience. He describes the transition as if it was like slicing through butter. However, his actions are similar to that of riveting a nail into a hole in the wall. But because of Azar’s internal conflict, brought on by her past, her coquettish behaviour is actually a sheath that her mind is caged within, and her heart hidden from intimate attachment. Not only is the sheath used to “protect” her, it is also used to prevent the inevitable consequence of their friendship being shattered if he were to heed further into the unknown. The regression of their friendship begun as Reza continued pressuring Azar with the temptation of forbidden love to achieve ‘freedom’.
Power will consume and corrupt its wielder. In due course, the wielder will set aflame conventions in search of its rewards. But some wielders use power as an unveiled curtain in the face of controversy and uncertainty to shield their insecurities.
The interpretation of Reza’s character is as Azar describes him to be: the cohesive bond between friends and potential freedom. The author is also portraying that his content and humorous behaviour is a symbol of people conforming to the laws issued by the government to determine what is appropriate behaviour, attire, and lifestyle. This is an invisible cloak that masks their true character. It represents the freedom that people lack because of a society’s expectation that people should behave according to laws and social norms, and not as themselves or who they wish to be. By conveying this message, the author invites the reader to self-reflect upon their personal experiences and social behaviour to fill in the blanks. This is meant so that the reader may further understand and possibly relate to the circumstances of the visible oppression in Iran.
The coercion of people in the past and present arises from the insecurities of men in power – the fear of losing the power of control. Although power can help achieve our aspirations, it can also bring destruction to those standing in its wake. It gradually corrupts us with greed and blinds us from reality. Power is like a double-edged sword – when a man wields it, he may conquer many in his lifetime but he will eventually lose sight of himself and cripple his sense of humanity. What is known of the past can be used to avoid the mistakes made by our ancestors, but in the case of the Iranian government, the mistakes in history are used as weapons. “Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - John Dalberg-Acton
The narration of the story is done through the first person point-of-view of Azar. The purpose of this is to convey the circumstances in which women of modern-day Iran live in, and the oppression they suffer because of the political and societal views of the government. The implementations of laws by governments around the world exist to protect the rights and values of their citizens. What the laws don’t contain, though, is guaranteeing the freedom of people nor the protection of it. “When the power of love overcomes the love of the power, the world will know peace and freedom.” – Jimi Hendrix. Historic figures, like Imam Hussein and Martin L. King, although of different demographics, have struggled to gain freedom from oppression and have sacrificed their lives for the rights of freedom for humanity. The overall theme of this story is that freedom is a universal concept shared by people around the globe, regardless of their demographics, which can only be achieved if there is internal and external peace. And for internal and external peace to truly exist, power need not be amidst.     
The brevity of the story, being the lengthiest in the collection, “Echoes from the Other Land”, contributes to the foreboding issues of freedom, political dominance, and gender inequality in Iran. The title itself, “Wind Through My Hair”, deploys these issues throughout the story in conjunction with Azar’s headscarf – which represents the constriction of society’s structure. The author illustrates this meaning through the nature of hair in the wind and the incorporation of the headscarf. “I LOOSEN THE TIE of my headscarf as I turn from Niayesh Highway into street.” (Homa, 15) This suggests that the headscarf is a symbol of conformity to society’s expectations in which Azar hides within. “The lights of a police car flicker in my rear view mirror. I tuck in the loose strands of hair under my headscarf and tighten its tie.” (Homa, 35) The ending is open-ended in that we remain uncertain of her relationship with Reza and the outcome of her temporary feeling of freedom.
Through narrative elements, “Wind Through My Hair” effectively conveys the issues of political dominance and gender inequality contributes to the increasing need for freedom of women in Iran. The subtleness of the story symbolizes the nature of corruption seeds from power. This issue invites the reader to position themselves in place of the women in Iran to depict the struggle for freedom and glimpse into the circumstances of their world. In essence, in order to achieve and maintain the rights of humanity and peace, people around the world must unite to encumber the growth of corruption for the sake of our freedoms.