Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review of Ava Homa's debut Echoes from the Other Land on Black Coffee Poet | Open Book: Toronto

Review of Ava Homa's debut Echoes from the Other Land on Black Coffee Poet | Open Book: Toronto

Echoes from the Other Land (Stories)
By Ava Homa
Review by May Lui
Reading the stories in Echoes from the Other Land, I found myself absorbing and learning perspectives and realities that are both similar and very different from the world that I’m familiar with. Ava Homa writes of a world of urban Iran, a world where women; single, divorced and married; negotiate and navigate a sometimes unfriendly and harsh world of religious police, family, religion, narrow views of women’s sexuality and societal expectations for women.
She does this without using the Western tropes of how Iran is “othered” when white secular Christians write about Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. Her perspective is much needed in the landscape of Canadian fiction, and intensely valuable on its own.
Ava Homa is Iranian-born, of Kurdish ancestry. Her stories suggest her unique perspective on what it means to be marginalized and part of a minority. This is reflected in her characters, who are often nonconformists who aren’t understood by their family and friends.
Each story could be a novel in itself. Each story drops us into a world where we must quickly become oriented, as the narrative is already moving quickly starting from the first paragraph. Homa simply begins each story mid-way through a moment in the lives of her characters, and we need to carefully read to understand the full context and the parameters in which the various characters, all of whom are women in their 20s, find themselves.
In A River of Milk and Honey Homa writes:
People say they hate the Komiteh because they are constantly harassing everyone, but I see that people fear each other more than they fear the police. (page 41)
Themes weave in and out of all the stories; one theme is the tension as well as the interlocking aspects of isolation and connection. So many of her characters are isolated, some of their own choosing, some because of society’s notions of what is “acceptable” for women and others through repressive political and religious systems. Her complex and sometimes troubled characters respond and react against this isolation, as well as their own needs for connection, in different ways, all of which draws the reader into each story.
In Glass Slippers Homa writes:
Yusef has never yelled at you or laid a hand on you, has never bullied you. He knows poetry by heart, cares for spar-rows, feels pity for the fish imprisoned in the small pond ofthe yard, and loves flowers. You love him. (page 68)
In Silk Shawl Homa writes:
I flipped through the four channels. As usual, three of them featured blathering mullahs, and the last, football. I turned off the TV. (page 83)
Another theme that’s very strong in Homa’s stories is told through the young women who are her main characters, and how they chafe, struggle, fight, resist and rebel against the many restrictions in their lives. They drink, they have sex, they pray, they wear the veil, they don’t wear the veil, and they wish for things to be different.
Homa’s characters also want what all young women want: to express themselves separately from what their parents want for them; to fall in love; to be loved; to be good at their jobs; to be happy.
Homa uses very tight, descriptive prose that takes us right into the moment of the story. She describes sights, smells, textures and sounds, as well as emotions, disagreements and passions that cut deeply to the heart of knowing her characters from the inside. She does this with an almost painful honesty, a striking truth and vulnerability that cannot be dismissed or ignored. Homa also moves the reader through lies, deceptions, anger, jealousy, fear, as well as tenderness, kindness and love.
The breadth of Homa’s stories go from a woman in a very unhappy abusive marriage; to divorce; disability; cross-dressing; friendship; the lines between friendship and sexual attraction; self-harm and much more.
Each story ends too soon. We’re left wanting more, wanting some kind of closure to stories which at times feel unresolved. Since that’s how life is most of the time, that’s another truth that is a reflection, an echo.
A wonderful collection from this excellent writer. Recommended.
May Lui is a Toronto-based writer who is mixed-race, anti-racist, feminist and an all-around troublemaker. She blogs at, ranting and raving at any and all injustices and uses the f-bomb regularly. She’s been published in the Toronto Star, Fireweed Magazine, Siren Magazine, in the anthology With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn, at and Contact her

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mostly Books: Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Mostly Books: Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa: Ava Homa's debut short story collection Echoes from the Other Land was published in 2010 by TSAR, my publisher. I say this in the interest...

New Review of Echoes from the Other Land May 2012

SATURDAY, MAY 26, 2012

Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

Ava Homa's debut short story collection Echoes from the Other Land was published in 2010 by TSAR, my publisher. I say this in the interests of full disclosure. Ava Homa is also my friend, a fact I mention also in the interests of disclosure. But I’d like to tell you about this book, this unique book, which has given me a rare glimpse into an unknown world.

The slim collection of seven stories is set in the present-day Islamic Republic of Iran, a country that for most us is hidden behind impenetrable borders - borders, for western readers, that are physical, cultural and psychological. Ava Homa is a native Iranian, and she writes of the world she knows. She tells of young women living ordinary lives, but lives behind veils - veils physical and actual, but veils cultural and psychological, as well.

Perhaps the most arresting feature of this collection is the oblique and spare style of its writing. The language is shorn of all adornment or flourish. We enter into the minds of characters, the hidden and secret minds, where thoughts echo in the silence. This silence is that of a censored world, where actions, even thoughts, are daring, and fugitive. And there is indeed a sense of the fugitive in this book, because the women are hiding and running from patriarchal authority figures, and their assertions of will are sudden and shocking, and often silent and invisible - that is to say, these assertions are sometimes merely thoughts in a character’s mind.

Dialogue here is often fragmentary, and whispered, so that words become a covering, or half-covering, over events in the narratives. Words in this way are both a revelation, and a veil. Words indeed are fugitive themselves in these stories, like startled birds that have escaped, by mistake, or despite themselves.

The spare style evokes, in an organic way, the bare landscape of Iran itself, or at least the landscape as this reader imagines it. An aridity to it, and a kind of suspension, which is the suspension of a people living under a totalitarian regime. The stories have rare flashes of colour - literal colour, as in a red dress or scarf, or lipstick - but colour metaphorically speaking also. The colour of a seldom glimpsed or expressed passion, for instance, or of a small, courageous act. It is the subtlety and surprise of these flashes that constitutes the art of these stories.

It is perhaps one of the aspirations of serious fiction to embody a sensibility and a place in so natural a way, with so little artifice, and it is certainly the hallmark of an artist who can do this. There are few voices we hear coming from this fortressed country, and this one, with its many echoes, and many silences, is real. For anyone interested in entering another world, a very different world, but one where people (and especially women) struggle with the same things people do everywhere, I recommend you read this unique book.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Speaker leaves audience silent - Minden Times - Ontario, CA

Speaker leaves audience silent - Minden Times - Ontario, CA

An Account of My Visit to Minden

Minden Times
Ava Homa, Kurdish author, pointed to the cultural genocide of her culture during her presentation at the Friends of the Library Annual General Meeting held at the Minden branch on Friday, April 27. Homa has a critically acclaimed book of short stories, Echoes from the Other Land, out now and is a writer-in-residence at the Minden Cultural Centre. The Friends of the Library contributed $11,000 to the Haliburton County Public Library last year. DARREN LUM/HALIBURTON ECHO/QMI AGENCY
More Photos

Article ID# 3549349
Speaker leaves audience silent

By Darren Lum

Updated 6 hours ago
Tears welled up and silence prevailed among the audience members while a Kurdish author described the cultural genocide of her people.
Ava Homa, author of critically acclaimed book Echoes from the Other Land, gave a stirring account of her life and the persecution facing Kurdish people during the Friends of the library annual general meeting held at the Minden branch on Friday, April 27.
It’s a good day when you don’t hear the names of loved ones as a list of the dead is announced on the radio, she said. In her lifetime, all of her uncles and many neighbours have been arrested and tortured for simply being Kurdish.
Contrary to public perception, torture is not meant to kill so much as break you, she adds.
Tension permeated the air when she described how her life changed forever at six months old.
That was when her father, who was reported by neighbours to the authorities, was arrested for having two banned books.
When he did return he was never the same, holding fast to “invisible injuries.”
He was full of hate for the injustice paid against him.
Her talk was accompanied by evocative images of pain and beauty, whether it was illustrating government-sanctioned firing squad killings, the majestic Kurdistan landscape or the resilient Kurdish people.
With educated parents, she pursued her studies, even teaching English in Iran at 17.
Despite a prevailing attitude in society to have women focus more on housework and to be married off by puberty than education, Homa persevered with her studies of English and literature in Iran.

Although life for Kurds in Kurdistan, which is bordered by Iran, Syria, Turkey, Armenia and Iraq, has its benefits of being in their ancestral country, there are random arrests and government-sanctioned firing line killings for suspected terrorists, Homa said.
She points out Kurds are regularly being suspected for terrorism since the fight for independence from the Iraq government continues.
The Iraqi government authorizes the Kurdistan Regional Government to govern Iraqi Kurdistan. However full autonomy is desired.
There is a constant struggle for independence by the Kurds in disputed regions. Rebellion suppression has resulted in horrific results such as the 1988 chemical gas attack by a Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government on a general population of people, which left 5,000 people dead in five minutes.
Over the decades many countries have used Kurdistan for its natural resources such as oil, she said. This has left the Kurds alone in the world, unable to gain the attention of the world’s media.
Homa, married, has spent the past five years in Canada, exiled.
She knows if she returns she will be arrested and hopes to one day be reunited with her brother, who she has not seen since she left Iran.
Now she is a George Brown College teacher, translator (Farsi/English) and a writer-in-residence for the Minden Hills Cultural Centre.
The strikingly beautiful author, who arrests people equally with her exotic beauty and her unflinching accounts of the struggles of her people, escaped Iran with a student visa to take advantage of an academic scholarship to Windsor University, completing a Masters in English and creative writing.
Her book, Echoes from the Other Land, was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and earned a sixth in the top 10 of winners for the CBC Reader’s Choice Contest for the Giller Prize.
The book is a collection of short stories that focus on the woman’s perspective in Iran.
For more information on Homa see her website (

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