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published: Oct 2010
ISBN:9781894770644

Echoes from the Other Land

by Ava Homa

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short stories (single author)
0 of 5
0 ratings
rated!
rated!
list price: $19.95
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
category: Fiction
published: Oct 2010
ISBN:9781894770644
Description

These haunting stories beautifully evoke the oppressive lives of modern women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Anis, a computer programmer, is at the end of her rope, putting up with the bullying criticism of a no-good, unemployed lout of a husband; Azar is a young divorcee, and the only person she can talk to is Reza; but she can see him only late at night when "they" are not around; Sharmin has Down's syndrome and hopelessly loves Azad; he loves Kazhal, beautiful and blessed; but Kazhal is married off and is divorced at twenty and now awaits a hopeless future . . . For these and other characters the weight of traditional attitudes, the harrassment of the religious establishment, and the attitudes of men make for a frustrating, confining, and sometimes unlivable existence.

"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

"Ava Homa is Canada's exquisite answer to Raymond Carver. Homa announces new beginnings - less irony, more hope - and from a breathtakingly multicultural and international perspective. Readers will experience awe and beauty at the force of Homa's art to convey female Iranian protagonists wholeheartedly grasping their lives. A taut and subtle plain-spokenness enlivens her writing, belying rich dramatic tensions that build just beneath the surface - which will surprise readers and then captivate them." - Louis Cabri, author of The Mood Embosser

About the Author

Ava Homa

AVA HOMA is a writer, journalist and activist specializing in women’s issues and Middle Eastern affairs. She holds an MA in English and creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her collection of short stories, Echoes from the Other Land, was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and she is the inaugural recipient of the PEN Canada–Humber College Writers-in-Exile Scholarship. Born and raised in the Kurdistan Province of Iran, Homa now divides her time between Toronto and San Francisco. Daughters of Smoke and Fire is her debut novel.

 

 

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Contributor Notes

Ava Homa was teaching at a university in Iran when she decided to move to Canada to study in an Ontario university. Currently she lives in Toronto, where she continues teaching and writing.

Editorial Review

Echoes from the Other Land reviewed by Carole Giangrande http://carolesbooktalk.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/echoes-from-the-other-land-stories-from-iran/ December 16, 2010 Echoes From The Other Land: Stories from Iran When most of us think of Iran, what comes to mind is the image of women covered in black chadors who move like shadows through a strict, puritanical society. All of this is true, of course, but it's also true that Iran is a modern, developed country, and in Ava Homa's first collection of stories, Echoes From The Other Land, we're faced with a jarring combination of realities that co-exist side by side in her homeland. In these seven stories, veiled women use cell phones, buy CDs, are good with computers, and, along with their husbands and boyfriends, party on into the night in stylish western dress, reminding me of the hidden world of our Nineteen-Twenties speakeasies during Prohibition. The friction between strict laws and customs and the realities of modern life makes the sparks fly in these stories. In "Fountain," the dissonance is surreal as a young woman, Anis, gets bullied and bossed around by Ali, her unemployed husband, who's asserting his traditional authority over her while she's trying to write a computer program. Just as potent in these stories is a kind of resonance that's set up between parallel situations - different types of oppression, for example - in which one form of imprisonment amplifies the other, allowing the entire story to hum along on a single clear note of perception. For example, in "A River of Milk and Honey," the narrator, Sharmin, a girl set apart by a facial deformity, observes the equally restricted world of her mother, her aunt, and a beautiful young woman who's chased by men and whose parents find her the wrong husband. This same resonant effect is equally powerful in the story "I am One of Them." Two voices pound away at young Sana who's locked herself in her room: her mother, angry that she's broken up with her fiancé Zanyar, and her friend Susan on the phone who's also upset with her. The back-and-forth of these voices is intense and claustrophobic. In "Glass Slippers," the story is told in the second person, as the narrator addresses herself. She and a friend, Sara, are hiding in a basement, trying to get a glimpse of her husband's lover. What the wife discovers about her husband may be far more devastating than adultery, and the effect is amplified by the intimacy of the woman conversing with her turbulent inner self. And in the final story, "Just Like Googoosh," we learn that headscarves - not usually worn around the house - may serve to hide something painful - in this case the loss of Fermisk's hair, quite possibly because of chemotherapy. What makes these stories work is the simplicity and directness of their telling. Homa suggests much and states little outright. Maybe this approach is, in fact, the true "echo from the other land" - Iran - in which much is unspoken and cannot be said, in which there's no doubt a vocabulary of signs and signals and coded words with layers of meanings and suggestiveness. This elusive approach to storytelling is subtle and powerful, haunting the reader with the silence between the words. I'd only add that these characters are all quite youthful, and in future stories, it would be interesting to see what Ava Homa might do with a greater variety of characters at different stages of life. That said, take your imagination to Iran with this story collection, and you'll be rewarded with much insight and fine storytelling. Ava Homa's Echoes From The Other Land is published by Tsar Books in Toronto. 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 Ava Homa is Canada's exquisite answer to Raymond Carver. Homa announces new beginnings - less irony, more hope - and from a breathtakingly multicultural and international perspective. Readers will experience awe and beauty at the force of Homa's art to convey female Iranian protagonists wholeheartedly grasping their lives. A taut and subtle plain-spokenness enlivens her writing, belying rich dramatic tensions that build just beneath the surface - which will surprise readers and then captivate them. - LOUIS CABRI, author of The Mood Embosser Echoes From the Other Land reviewed on The Thoughtful Blogger http://carolesbooktalk.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/echoes-from-the-other-land-stories-from-iran/ When most of us think of Iran, what comes to mind is the image of women covered in black chadors who move like shadows through a strict, puritanical society. All of this is true, of course, but it's also true that Iran is a modern, developed country, and in Ava Homa's first collection of stories, Echoes From The Other Land, we're faced with a jarring combination of realities that co-exist side by side in her homeland. In these seven stories, veiled women use cell phones, buy CDs, are good with computers, and, along with their husbands and boyfriends, party on into the night in stylish western dress, reminding me of the hidden world of our Nineteen-Twenties speakeasies during Prohibition. The friction between strict laws and customs and the realities of modern life makes the sparks fly in these stories. In "Fountain," the dissonance is surreal as a young woman, Anis, gets bullied and bossed around by Ali, her unemployed husband, who's asserting his traditional authority over her while she's trying to write a computer program. Just as potent in these stories is a kind of resonance that's set up between parallel situations - different types of oppression, for example - in which one form of imprisonment amplifies the other, allowing the entire story to hum along on a single clear note of perception. For example, in "A River of Milk and Honey," the narrator, Sharmin, a girl set apart by a facial deformity, observes the equally restricted world of her mother, her aunt, and a beautiful young woman who's chased by men and whose parents find her the wrong husband. This same resonant effect is equally powerful in the story "I am One of Them." Two voices pound away at young Sana who's locked herself in her room: her mother, angry that she's broken up with her fiancé Zanyar, and her friend Susan on the phone who's also upset with her. The back-and-forth of these voices is intense and claustrophobic. In "Glass Slippers," the story is told in the second person, as the narrator addresses herself. She and a friend, Sara, are hiding in a basement, trying to get a glimpse of her husband's lover. What the wife discovers about her husband may be far more devastating than adultery, and the effect is amplified by the intimacy of the woman conversing with her turbulent inner self. And in the final story, "Just Like Googoosh," we learn that headscarves - not usually worn around the house - may serve to hide something painful - in this case the loss of Fermisk's hair, quite possibly because of chemotherapy. What makes these stories work is the simplicity and directness of their telling. Homa suggests much and states little outright. Maybe this approach is, in fact, the true "echo from the other land" - Iran - in which much is unspoken and cannot be said, in which there's no doubt a vocabulary of signs and signals and coded words with layers of meanings and suggestiveness. This elusive approach to storytelling is subtle and powerful, haunting the reader with the silence between the words. I'd only add that these characters are all quite youthful, and in future stories, it would be interesting to see what Ava Homa might do with a greater variety of characters at different stages of life. That said, take your imagination to Iran with this story collection, and you'll be rewarded with much insight and fine storytelling. Ava Homa's Echoes From The Other Land is published by Tsar Books in Toronto. Echoes From the Other Land reviewed in Rudaw, May 15 2011 http://www.rudaw.net/english/book-review/3682.html Echoes from the Other Land is carefully crafted in a realist style but, when compared to homogenized portrayals of Iran in the western media, the reader's experience more closely resembles the surreal. For a western reader the conflict of the real and the surreal resonates — it echoes — and does not fade away. Echoes from the Other Land is a rare experience. A western reader is confronted not with a didactic tale of oppression or a stark narrative of an alien culture — Iranian — from across the globe. Instead these stories are dry-witted and at times shockingly funny. Echoes from the Other Land is optimistic and driven by characters and dialogue that feel so unexpectedly familiar that their social context is pushed to the periphery. Simultaneously, power builds in this periphery until ultimately crashing into the mainstream narratives. You will forget the setting while your attention is directed to individuals. And you will be reeled back in when the time is right. In one story, "A River of Milk and Honey," a beautiful woman appears before a battle damaged home. With a focus on beauty Homa tricks her audience into confronting the ugly. Slowly and quietly the weight of conflict and tyranny weaves itself deeply into the most personal areas of the protagonists' lives — but they are so disturbingly used to it the reader is often more conscious of it than they are. A scene in "I Am One of Them" juxtaposes what can only really be described, without giving away too much that is, as “girl talk,' with the challenges faced by some girls of specific cultures. There is an important realization to be made regarding the distinct experiences of, in this story, Qeshmi and Kurdish girls. However, despite some such components and themes that could rightly be called feminist, do not confuse Echoes from the Other Land for feminist literature. When the narrative is exploring the distinct experiences of these girls it is not because they are girls. It is because they are an organic part of the story. For a reader who has lived under tyranny “this one has not- the experience is likely to come with a sense of liberation. The characters, while from “the other land,' are not themselves “othered.' Instead, it is the oppressive regime of a mad dictator that is “othered' as the stories unfold. In this vein Echoes from the Other Land gives a voice to those who may only speak up at personal risk — this is true freedom writing. There is something Ava Homa said at a "Freedom to Read Week" reading recently in Windsor, Ontario, that stands out in memory: "no invasion, please." Homa strongly believes that the Iranian people possess the strength of will to overcome tyranny without foreign military intervention, are better off pursuing freedom of their own initiative, and her belief is built quietly into the narration, character development, and the very foundation upon which Echoes from the Other Land is constructed. P.B. Shelley once said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Likewise, Homa stands firm in her belief that literature is a potent tool of social change - spreading education, unity, and promoting common purposes. What makes Echoes from the Other Land effective is that, while the stories lay bare the daily lives of people in Tehran, Kurdistan and other cities of Iran, conclusions are left for the reader to make freely on his or her own. Echoes From the Other Land reviewed in the Toronto Quarterly Issue 8 November 2011 Ava Homa was not so long ago writing and teaching at a university in Iran when she decided to move to Canada to study Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. She now lives in Toronto, where she continues to teach and write. Her debut collection of short stories Echoes From The Other Land (Tsar Publications, 2010) has been critically acclaimed and nominated for the prestigious Frank O'Connor Short Story Prize. She has been regaled as Canada's answer to Raymond Carver, and rightly so. Her stories are incredibly succinct and breathtaking. Homa exquisitely portrays the lives of her female Iranian protagonists, who continually prove to be unafraid of taking hold of their own lives, unveiling an inner-strength that is not only surprising, but a lot more universal than might have been first expected. Her stories are rich, dramatic, tension-filled, and have an innate ability to captivate the reader.

Homa poignantly points out that the resistance is real, that Iranian women are indeed tired of living their lives under an oppressive regime, and that the Western media's depiction of them as being inferior and limited are primarily falsehoods. It should also be noted that the similarities between Middle Eastern and Western culture are not that dissimilar at all, that Iranian women do have a voice, and their social activity is not only widespread and diverse, but ever- changing. Reviewed by Farzana Doctor When Ava Homa read the short story, Glass Slippers, at the Brockton Writers Series, I knew I wanted to read her new short story collection, Echoes From The Other Land (TSAR, 2011). Glass Slippers is about a young woman who learns of her loving husband's secret. Despite all the clues, she naively believes that the bra she finds in his drawer suggests that he is having an affair. Much of the story takes place in a storage room, a confining and hidden place from where the protagonist and her suspicious sister carry out their surveillance of her street, waiting for the "other woman" to turn up.

Homa's writing is non-linear, seeming to travel in concentric circles, details almost stealthily offered until a full picture of her characters' worlds is eventually revealed. Setting and emotion tie together well; at one point we are in the storage room, then in the thick of memory, back again with two sisters arguing while balancing precariously on electronic equipment, and finally, in a bedroom, seeing the truth with wide eyes. There were a few moments where this style made me work hard as a reader, almost interrupting the story, but in most places its impact was delightful and suprising.

Many of her stories contain themes of tense relationships between Iranian men and women and her female characters bring with them a wide range in perspectives and approaches to the world around them. One character copes with her emotionally abusive husband, while he seems confused about the reasons for his behaviour. A young divorcee struggles with a man who elicits a push-pull within her. A newly married woman seeks emotional revenge upon the husband she believes cheated on her with a relative. The voices are strong, distinct, diverse.

She deftly describes the impacts of living within an Islamic Republic where religious police monitor behaviour. In Silk Shawl, bitter and angry Noushin attends a party and describes a young man's outfit: "He was in a gray shirt and pair of jeans--torn ones, the current fashion. Had he appeared in public in those pants, they would have arrested him in a second. He must have changed here, too. Young men carrying bags of clothing to change at parties! Jailed just for carrying those. It would be awesome if I could hide his public pants."

Her book has been long-listed for the Frank O'Connor Short Story Award. Reviewed by Black Coffee Poet http://blackcoffeepoet.com/2011/08/01/echoes-from-the-other-land-stories-by-ava-homa/

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.

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