Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ava Homa in Authors' Aloud

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Ava Homa

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Ava Homa reads from her collection, Echoes from the Other Land
Published by: TSARbooksTime of Reading: 5:34
Ava Homa is a Kurdish-Canadian writer-in-exile. She experienced war as a child and the aftermath of Islamic Revolution in adulthood (Kurdistan uprising, losing loved ones, economic crisis and inflation). Ava has two Masters, in Creative Writing and English Language and literature. Echoes from the Other Land, Ava’s collection of short stories about resistance of modern Iranian women under the oppressive regime, was published by TSARbooks, Toronto. Ava’s writings have appeared in English and Farsi publications including the Toronto Star and the Windsor Review. She was a writer and a member of faculty in Iran. In Toronto, Ava writes and teaches Creative Writing, English and ESL.
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"Ranging across regions, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and political dispositions, Homa’s characters give us a prismatic portrait of Iran that resists both internal tyrannies and Western demonization. Her style is elegantly spare, gem-solid. This is a voice we all need to hear."
Susan Holbrook, author of Joy Is So Exhausting
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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A NEW Review of Echoes from the Other Land

Written in the third language of a double diasporic author, a Kurdish-Iranian woman, Echoes from the Other Land gratifies various audiences. The collection speaks to non-Iranians by portraying a new world for many, if not most, of them, while refusing to compromise the complex realities of the lives of Iranian women and men. The book effectively speaks to Iranians as well, by attempting to reflect a multifaceted and yet aptly critical picture of diverse Iranian identities. Last but not least, Echoes from the Other Land'which is a deceptively lucid read'satisfies readers of literature of all levels.

Besides her academic familiarity with literature on a professional level, Homa''s hybrid identity has in particular and significantly influenced her work. Due to her double marginalization in Iranian society, both as a Kurd and a woman, Homa is privileged over many Iranian authors, in that her stories also foreground the intersection of ethnic and gender issues in a manner which not only reveals her shrewd overarching observation, but also defamiliarizes each separate issue for many audiences already familiar with Iranian society.

Each of the book's seven stories revolves around a distinct female protagonist who possesses her specific gender identity, ranging from the characteristically masculine qualities of the independent Azar in 'Wind through my Hair' to the ambivalent identity of Anis in 'Fountain' to the typically feminine personality of Fermisk in 'Just Like Googoosh.' What links all such characters, though, is the similar systematic issues they, as women, are dealing with in the same society. Yet, all stories concurrently engage different modes of masculinity in contemporary Iran. Being replete with diverse male characters and such themes as male privilege and entitlement, violence, social exclusion, veil, censorship, self-censorship, and hierarchy of bodies, the stories in a sense target various modes of Iranian hegemonic masculinity'on both regional and local levels.Homa''s treatment of such themes is fortunately not reductive. In many of her stories, for instance, readers can trace the presence of hegemonic masculine violence, which is delicately regarded as institutionalized exclusive interpersonal and social practices against women and sexual minorities.

What distinguishes'--and fortunately so'--Homa''s stories from much feminist fiction is her hope regarding the future of gender relations. This is because, while severely criticizing the patriarchal system predominant in the Iranian gender order, Homa suggests the possibility of democratizing gender relations, too. The collection ends on this admirably optimistic tone, as the last story's male character, in his openness to equality with women, highly contrasts with all his previous counterparts. I would argue that all feminist literature, if anticipating a wider and more sympathetic readership, does require such a complex and more democratic attitude towards representing gender relations.

While reading Echoes from the Other Land, I could not help remembering Hemingway's and Carver's tersely effective styles. Thus, I do agree with Louis Cabri in her comparing Homa to Raymond Carver, except that Homa occasionally seems more explicit to me. But, even if so, and despite the merits of ambiguity in literature, some degree of explicitness may in certain cases'such as in feminist literature'be favourable. Like all good literature, Homa''s stories leave the readers much to ponder after the reading is done. While looking forward to more stories by the young Ava Homa in the future, I readily recommend her debut collection of short stories, Echoes from the Other Land, to everyone interested in quality literature, gender issues, Middle East, or Iran.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My Non-fiction Piece on Life of an Artist


Hossein Davari
By Ava Homa
Hossein Davari
Hossein Davari
My 18-month-old son, Ali, was startled when my employer rang the doorbell on a Sunday morning. I let the man borrow my car and he left his truck with me. It was a nice April morning in 2002, and I had not been able to go back to sleep. I decided to clean the truck instead, to prepare it for my jobs on Monday. Ali toddled after me, sucking on his soother. I hugged him, kissed him, and let him play with the wheel, since the engine was turned off. A Freon capsule was sitting between the second and third row of seats and I was preparing the instruments, the furnace and air conditioning.
“Is this worth it, after all?” This same, singular question – one I had been obsessed over for six months – occupied my mind again. After twelve years of working as a stone sculptor in Iran, I was finally being offered sizable government contracts. Since immigrating to Canada, I had only ever been an assistant, and I wondered if it would take me another twelve years – or maybe more – to build up my career.
I’m not sure which tore my thoughts apart first, my son panicking or the gas blowing out of the capsule. A powerful, invisible force threw the heavy metal capsule to the back of the truck in less than a second. Ali’s screams left me with no option but to try and stop the blow by holding my hand in front of it. Have I ever made a bigger mistake?
“Hush, azizam, hush. It’s nothing,” I said to Ali, who looked extremely scared. My leather gloves were as ill-equipped to stop the gas as the words with which I tried to calm Ali. I thought of throwing the capsule on the pavement and hugging my kid, but when I glimpsed the skirt of a young girl running after her white puppy, I decided I didn’t want this shock to happen to anyone else’s kid. My hands were feeling numb by this point.
Looking around for ideas, I noticed a small tap under the main one and twisted it twice to shut off the flow. My hands felt frozen. Ignoring the sensation, I hugged my little boy and carefully took him inside. It was only after Ali calmed down a bit that I noticed a severe pain in my hands and arms. My wife had returned home by then.
Have you ever noticed that when a part of your body hurts, you automatically put your hand on it to soothe it or calm it down? At this point I wondered what to do when both hands and arms are in ruthless pain…and I don’t remember what happened after.
Hossein Davari was transported to Sunnybrook Hospital a few hours after the incident, where he was informed that his handswould most likely have to be amputated or he risked having noremaining nerve function in his arms. Only Hossein’s bones were visible at that point, there was no flesh left to cover them since it was ruined by the Freon gas, which burns flesh more severely than fire does.
An artist’s worst nightmare is the loss of their hands, and as a professional sculptor, Hossein, was now facing a real danger.
Not only would he not be able to sculpt anymore; he would not be able to find another job either.
“During those very tough days of trying to rise above injury, unemployment, loneliness in a foreign country, limited savings,language barriers and other challenges, I noticed something that made me feel satisfied. It wasn’t just the amount of care I received from my nurses and doctors, but I noticed that as a newcomer, I had the exact same rights in Canada as did Canadians whose ancestors lived here! It was only then that I realized that my immigration to Canada, even despite the hardship I was facing, wasn’t wrong.”
Hossein says that it was then that he started thinking about how Canada came to be, evolving into what it is today, and how he might contribute to this fabulous country he called home. He realized that if you traced the lineage of every Canadian’s family, except for aboriginal peoples, you would find someone in them had an immigrant status at one point or another. That’s why Canada is an entity in itself, as it shelters people from all over the world. He realized that the immigrants have helped to create a systematic country with rules to protect everyone against discrimination. As his body was recovering, his observations helped his mind to heal too.
After months of therapy, Hossein finally regained the use of his hands. He believes that he owes his hands to Sunnybrook Hospital staff, and his wife.
“I would go to the hospital every day for therapy. Almost all the staff knew me then. Their friendly greetings, smiles and positive attitudes helped me as much as their medical care did. My wife also played a crucial role. She did everything for me, everything, including spoon-feeding me. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
From the very first day this courageous and fortunate Iranian man could sculpt again, and for the following six months thereafter,he devoted his time and energy to crafting a huge sculpture representing harmony. Hossein broke a leg while carving the top of the statue. He fell down and had a cast on his leg for forty days. That neither stopped him from working or smiling.
“The harmony sculpture is a visual representation of the success and opportunities that various generations of people have encountered upon immigrating to Canada. The rock formation on which the statue rests represents the earth (also symbolizing that people from all over the world gathered here to build this nation). The formation holds a large burden built on it, similar to how Canada has been built from bare rock and earth, through the relentless effort of successive generations of Canadians. The globe in the center of the sculpture represents the cultural diversity that makes Canada unique among nations; a multicultural country whose citizens hail from around the world. The globe itself is surrounded by a crescent shaped ‘C’ with a maple leaf sculpted on it. This symbolizes the common bond that unites the diverse people of Canada, the desire for a better life that their ancestors and them to immigrate here.
Hossein Davari
Hossein Davari
Statue along. Then, Hossein’s plans to present the statue to the Olympics were postponed due lack of pre-arrangements at the time. Despite the high travel expenses and the hardships that would have made the trip look impossible to most, Hossein finds his long trip rewarding.
“A few times a tire needed changing and the mechanics didn’t charge me when they saw the heavy statue I was carrying in honour of Canada. Even a few hotels let me stay overnight free of charge. I will also never forget the tears in a young woman’s eyes as she approached me in Vancouver, clearly able to understand much of the statue’s meaning. In minus-32-degree-Celsius temperatures, Canadians would stop to appreciate the statue as it was presented in the downtown areas of various cities I would pass through. They took pictures with me and my artwork. Some of them would even climb the sculpture.”
To visit the sculpture and chat with Hossein Davari  check out “Masterpiece” at 8-315 Steelcase Rd. E. Markham, ON L3R 2R5.