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.

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