Sunday, August 4, 2013

Yet Another Great Review of Echoes from the Other Land

Wasafiri reviewed Echoes from the Other Land

Here's the link

Through the eyes of its exiles, Iran is a
place that can be distinctly captured.
Those who have left their homeland for
the United States are in a unique position
to juxtapose their lives back home with
their experiences in a new land. This is
precisely what happens in Martyrdom
Street by Firoozeh lpoetically infused story intimately
weaves between Fatemeh's life in
war-torn Iran to her visit to her daughter
Nasrin in New York. Ava Homa's Echoes
from the Other Land is a collection of
deftly crafted short stories that offer
snapshots of diverse women living
ubiquitous lives in various areas of Iran.
Taken together, both works paint rich
pictures of Iranian culture and
particularly how women negotiate their
ways through it.
In both of these books, the
relationship between Iran and America is
portrayed through distinct events in
Iran's recent history. Martyrdom Street is
set during the 1979 revolution and the
Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Violence on
the streets and in military and political
con'trol, as well as daily bombings make
life unpredictable and horror filled.
Faterneh is disfigured in a bombing,
while young boys roam the streets in
packs with guns and newspapers relish
stories of executions. Yet even in
America, where Nasrin has fled in the
hope of finding safety, complete escape
from the violence is not possible, for
New York has its own troubled streets.
And for many, a sense of disconnect
manifests itself, as cultural differences
become glaringly obvious and loneliness
runs deep. In the America that so many
had dreamed of, realities are commonly
disappointing and an intricate Iranian
exile network is formed, keeping many
traditions intact and transforming
others. Taking place after the
revolutionary dust has settled, Ava
Homa's stories in Echoes from the Other
Land portray characters beyond dreams
of America. They have come to terms
with the reality of their lives and know
that they will never see cities like New
York with their own eyes. In fact, their
understanding of the complex
oppressive relationship between Iran
and the United States is comprehensive.
In the short story 'Silk Shawl', a casual
conversation at a party about escalating
real estate prices reveals this succinctly:
Well, the United States wit! threaten to
attack and then houses will be cheap
again, trust me. And it's no tragedy,
because inflation is something we can get
used to; betrayal and oppression are not.
The tension between Iran and Iraq is
also still palpable in 'A River of Milk and
Honey'. Sharmin, a young woman with a
disability who is shunned by her family
and society, observes:
Sometimes I wonder if God hates all the
people in this city, all the people who
live on the border of Iran and Iraq. My
father says Sanandaj is a city of
revolution and mass murder, tyranny,
and genocide.
Even though the war is officially said
to be over, it is not over in the streets or
in the hearts of the people. The wounds
are raw, and in some cases, have not
stopped bleeding.
There is the constant shadow of
male dominance in both Iran and
America that darkens the storylines in
both books, revealing an oppressive
undercurrent that is difficult to escape. It
becomes apparent that the gendered
injustices that women face in the most
intimate aspects of their lives are
symptomatic of larger systems of power.
Male dominance is evident in politics,
on the streets, in personal relationships,
and in everyday interactions. In
Martyrdom Street, dominant views of
gender are exposed by Fatemeh as she
witnesses an altercation between a man
and a woman at her local Iranian post
But no one rushed to support her cause.
Maybe it was the desperation in her
voice, the hypocrisy of her chador, or the
weakness of her gender that made her
appear guilty.
Gendered stereotypes have been
internalised it seems, even by women,
who adhere to them as male dominance
pervades their lives. Even more intrusive
is the Komiteh (the 'moral police') whom
Narin encounters when she returns to
Iran from America. The Komiteh raid
several units in an apartment block that
she is visiting and she overhears an
officer recommend that two young
women should be submitted to virginity
tests. Nasrin is appalled to learn about
the surgical business of re-virginisation,
demonstrating the menacing control that the authorities, and men in general, have
over women's bodies.
In Echoes from the Other Land, male
dominance is interlaced though each
story, from a bullying unemployed
husband, Ali, to a young divorcee whose
split from her husband has ruined her
reputation and chances of finding new
love. In 'Glass Slippers', a husband has
the audacity to flaunt his affairs and
makes no effort to conceal the bra and
lipstick that belong to his lover, which
his wife finds in the bedroom of their
home. The main character of this story,
the woman who is being cheated on, is
referred to only as 'you' throughout the
narrative, making clear the reality that
this can happen to any woman, and is
likely to happen to too many women.
In both books, the sinister and often
silenced realities of nee-imperialism and
patriarchy manifest most profoundly in
women's experiences and it is in the
confidential details of the characters'
lives that this can be witnessed. From a
severe eating disorder to mental
breakdown, women are paying a
destructive price. However, resistance
and hope still prevail. In Martyrdom
Street, Nasrin's resolve to rise against
tyranny, not only government tyranny,
but patriarchy as well, is the final note
on which the book ends. In Echoes from
the Other Land, the final story portrays a
compassionate husband trying to help
his wife come to terms with her hair loss,
leaving readers with a slight smile and
sense of hope. Both books feature
courageous women who are resilient
and inspiring, poetically resisting the
insidious violence of oppression in all
its menacing forms. Some characters
fight this in the confines of their hearts
while others resist with their lives.

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