Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In Conversation with Laurie Fraser, Author of The Word Not Spoken

Laurie Fraser is a Canadian writer and teacher who fell in love with a Kurdish man in Turkey while she was backpacking around Europe and Middle East. Only after marrying him, she realized he was a member of PKK. Although completely opposed to violence, Laurie stayed within that marriage and observed first-hand why and how a group of people could be left with no option but violence to fight oppression. She has witnessed firsthand the beauty and the damage of the Kurdish nation. 

After returning to Canada, Laurie spent years writing and rewriting and beautifully crafting a novel called The Word Not Spoken that recounts the story of the Kurds. In an interview special to Bas, she tells us about her life, her book and her perspective on Kurdish cause.

Ava Homa: Laurie, what about the Kurdish man charmed you so much that you decided to marry him?

Laurie Fraser: My husband was very much like the character Ahmet in The Word Not Spoken. He was impulsive, reckless and joyful. Every day was a celebration for him. He’d give away our last lira cheerfully with absolute faith that God always provides.

He was courageous in crazy ways, like, one day, yelling at 2 Istanbul policemen who were hitting a Kurdish man on the street for money. We had just been walking by but my husband strode over demanding explanations and threatening to report them. He got that guy away from them. This is one of the reasons I love him- his answer to my worry was: ’Look around. Do you see someone can help? No. Next they will arrest this man because he doesn’t have money to give. I must do something. Just I act important. You see? This is why it is important always wear a suit in Istanbul.’

For a Canadian girl, it was pretty heady stuff. As a child I loved the character of Robin Hood.I admired his band of merry men, his life in the forest, and his conviction that stealing from the rich to give to the poor was the right thing to do. And so, my Kurdish love fascinated me- a real life Robin Hood who put the disadvantaged first, who protected the vulnerable.

He was the opposite of what I knew. He was passion and conviction and purpose. He woke me up. And he was very handsome, very smooth...charismatic, intelligent. His joy was as intense and sudden as his anger. For a Western woman who had led a sheltered (even a boring and predictable) life, the daily excitement of life with this man was irresistible. He could spontaneously burst into song or dance at any moment. He told me stories and he listened to mine. He took me to the most dangerous places and I felt safer than I had ever felt in my life.

AH: The character, Ahmet, is truly one of the most spontaneous fictional characters I have recently come across. Our readers can understand the source of your fascination with him. Will you tell us what inspired you to take on an extensive book project?

LF: In March 1996 I met a group of Kurds whose village had been burned by the Turkish Army. They were 54 people, mostly related. After they lost their village, they moved to a a town but the men didn’t find work and their money ran out. They were forced to move into four floorless tents on a grassy plain near the border of Iran...it was the middle of nowhere, really.

We were out for a drive though it was pouring rain and we hadn’t even seen houses for many kilometres. I was shocked to come upon this miserable group.

In the cold tents were screaming babies, piles of wet belongings, one twig fire and some cookware. My Western brain had trouble comprehending how they could be so destitute, so far from help. In fact, we were in Turkey, it was 1996, and there was zero help near or afar.

I saw what was not there: shoes on feet, clean water, wood, food. It was a catastrophic emergency but I didn’t think that people who could help even knew about it.

My husband always said violence drew the world’s attention to these miseries, but I thought that writing a book would tell more people. And that people would learn about it en masse in a way that wasn’t 6:00 news. It would be a positive story that readers would love, share, talk about.

AH: That’s exactly what Westerns need to see to stop making assumptions about Kurds and open their hearts to this destitute yet resilient and amiable nation. Kurds admire you, Laurie, for helping their cause. Pen can be mightier than weapons. What aspect of the Kurdish culture did you like the most?

LF: I love the attention that people pay to each other. They sincerely enjoy each other’s company, it seems to me. They laugh quickly, support each other easily, take real pleasure in family. I’d never felt community like that before.

The interpersonal relationships play out for me in a cultural way. Maybe partly because of the simple things they choose to do together- have a picnic, or a barbeque, or a party, or just the neighbours drop by to drink tea. But those things are all about the people and no money is required, really. No effort is required. Yet, somehow, it is also tremendously generous. No planning. It happens like water flows. I think it’s actually love flowing.

AH: You are a true poet! I haven’t heard anyone else that beautifully explain the Kurdish culture. What aspect(s) of Kurdish culture did you find the most shocking?

I suppose the concept of revenge was shocking in its fervor. Honour too was a concept quite different from my culture.

AH: I see. So with knowing and witnessing everything that you did, how do you describe Kurds to your Canadian friends when they ask you?

Kurds are a tribal people who did not have influence in the political world when it mattered most to them- at the end of World War I when boundaries were drawn. They’ve been carved up and abused by foreign powers, over the many years, in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Now they’re spread all over the world, mostly as refugees. They never forget- Kurds absolutely never forget who’s been left behind- and what’s happened in the past. Many continue their commitment to their ethnic roots: working, struggling, reporting, donating.

So I tell Canadians the basic facts of who the Kurds are and how they came to be oppressed in 4 countries. But I also talk of their spirit, pride and beauty; their joy in spite of misery; their distrust in spite of concessions; their courage in spite of danger.

AH: How do you see situation of the Kurds now, compared to when you were in Northern Kurdistan?

I haven’t been there in 14 years but I always pray for continued improvements. The ceasefire and peace talks in Turkey, although marred and motivated for lots of wrong reasons, is a positive sign for me...because for me it’s all about the sons, husbands, fathers who are not at home, who will never come home or who will come home so deeply damaged that the family never recovers. For me, as unsatisfactory and complicated as the peace process is, at least they are not in combat right now.

AH: How do you see the future of the Kurds? How do you think Kurds can help themselves and improve their situation?

Kurdish blood is thick stuff. It has much to carry: the collective history of persecution, oppression, humiliation; the family history of loss, separation.

Kurds are courageous hard-working people who have been threatened at their core with genocide. As a group they will survive, continue to fight in many ways, and find ways to work more effectively together. There is no doubt for me about the continued (albeit slow) political progress.

One pressing issue for the Kurds is recovery from many decades of deep wounds. In some ways the Kurds remind me of Canadian Natives. They must be strong and united for their continued physical and political survival, but attention must also be directed inward. It has caused great damage to orphan and starve children, to separate families, to strip entire villages of their belongings, to torture bodies and souls, to live in constant fear...It is time to start the healing of generations.

Kurds are intelligent and creative. They are coming up with tremendous works of art and charity and beauty. They will heal individually and together...and I’m excited to see the world they are creating for themselves.

Proud poets, yes they are, politically savvy, yes more and more, but truly: all Kurds are wild in the heart, yearning for the mountains and freedom for all. I hope they never lose that.

AH: The Word not Spoken is very well-written for a debut novel. How did you learn to write?

Interesting, I haven’t thought much about it. I’ve always been a poet- I love to play with words like a puzzle. But no, I never studied creative writing.
I think we are born with some talents that are meant to serve us in this lifetime. I wrote stories on the floor as a child; I always knew I’d write a book with chapters. I truly believe I was destined to meet my husband, to know the Kurds and to help in my own way.
One reason it’s so polished is that I had trouble giving it up. So it’s been re-worked for years and years...out of love.

AH: Thank you very much Laurie for agreeing to talk to me!

Laurie Fraser is invited by the Kurdish House in Vancouver, Canada, to read from her book and talk about her experience in May 18, 2014 at Douglas College, room 2201; 700 Royal Avenue, New Westminster, BC; (Access on 7th Avenue).

To learn more about Laurie Fraser and see her haunting book go to http://www.lauriefraser.com/

 Ava Homa is a Kurdish- Canadian writer based in Toronto. 
The article was originally published at: http://www.basnews.com/en/News/Details/In-Conversation-with-Laurie-Fraser--author-of-The-Word-Not-Spoken/18353


Anonymous said...

Dear Laurie , I really enjoyed reading your insights about our nation . Ava is literally a gem -finder .piles of thanks to both of you.

Laurie Fraser said...

Thank you. I hope I don't generalize too much-but that's how I remember it. -Laurie

Anonymous said...

dear Laurie
I just jogged back home from chapters. your book is not available in print .I got disappointed . I saw thousands of best-selling dust- coated books on the shelves . but I could not find your THE WORD NOT SPOKEN there . How can I read it if it is neither spoken nor written yet.Please tell me where I can find it. I want to learn that unspoken word before my lungs act up and stop breathing.

Ava Homa said...

You could easily order it here


Anonymous said...

Thanks , I will tell my son to do it for me.