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.

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