Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Readers Write: Echoes from the Other Land: Haunting Stories by Ava Homa

Share |
Ava Homa

Open Book reader Patrick Connors spoke with Ava Homa about her short-story collection, Echoes from the Other Land (TSAR Publications), which was recently shortlisted for the 2011 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award.

Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa is a collection of short stories that resonates with images of what life is like for women in her native Iran.

I asked Homa what it will take to change in the treatment of women in the other land.

Change in rules, first and foremost. Laws that consider women as half a human only strengthen the male chauvinism. In “the other land,” some echoes of which are presented through my book, Iranian women struggle for equal rights, while the laws are obviously discriminatory in divorce, custody and so on. This does not mean, however, that all Iranian men take advantage of the unfair system but the point is that they can if they want. This legalized abuse, however, only makes the relationships shatter. I mean just because men have the right to do whatever, doesn’t mean they are happy. At the end, men indirectly suffer from inequality too, either because of their own rotten relationships or because they see their loved ones (a mother, a sister, a friend) suffer and the law only supports this. I think it is for the same reason that nowadays many Iranian men support women movements.

"Fountain" starts with Anis palming a small pink pill. “Oh, only a temporary relief with tons of side effects, which is probably the reason Anis is hesitant and finally throws away the pill,” Homa explains. She continues,

Well, there might be some who deal with such situations, for healthy or unhealthy reasons. But, unlike Iranian women, a Canadian woman would have more options. For instance, in case of a failed relationship, the price an Iranian woman pays, in terms of social taboos and rejections, is much higher than what a Canadian woman would pay. The story wants to present the other side of the coin, an insight into what Ali thinks and feels but, of course, indirectly.

The fountain is the central symbol that connects all other elements of the story. It is a cycle of life, rising up and falling down. As Ali mentions, Anis loves the fountain, which represents her desire to move up in life. Another woman passing stands by the fountain and enjoys the water dropping on her face. Ali cannot understand the fountain and its significance. Instead, he tries to remind himself how the law sees him superior to Anis only because of his gender. So, when he comes home, he tries to hide his insecurity behind showing off his “power.” Ironically, that’s exactly when he loses Anis.

Just a quick reminder that the Islamic Republic of Iran by no means represents Islam; even though the name suggests so. Iranian government manipulates religion to stay in power (so do many other groups, I think). I only realized this after I left Iran and met some progressive and amazing Muslims. Anyways, many non-for-profit organizations are really only after profits. Names do not always represent the essence.

"I Am One of Them" has Sana holding a knife in her hand — once again, the reader wonders what she will do with what is in her hand. But it becomes symbolic by the way women are still cut, in some cultures, by circumcision. This becomes very powerful and eye-opening to the reader. How does Sana’s Mother, and other women in general, contribute to the status quo?

What we are used to is a great part of our lives, isn’t it? Habits are powerful. Therefore, looking for stability, avoiding trouble and given the power that normalization has, people can survive under oppression. The mother and other women might admire a rebel, but as long as the rebel does not get them into trouble.

Qeshm is a very hot and humid island. Raining fire is real and symbolic at the same time. Sana is burning and melting in the unfair situation. Even at the critical moment of experiencing epiphany, she cannot say the word “circumcision.” Being too far from the reality of her body, the recognition seems surreal to her. When she realizes that some ordinary, even “holy” custom is horrible, she experiences shock and disorientation. Just a quick note that circumcision is not really common in Iran and happens only in very few cities.

"Just Like Googoosh" seems like a very sweet story in contrast to the others. It says a lot about the quality and depth of Homa’s writing that she can write from different perspectives, different voices, different modes of relating to one another, while making it seem like a streaming narrative. Still, there is something in the tenderness between the man and his wife which inspires hope.
“Kurdish men are simple and honest,” says Homa. She continues,

Diako, the male character of the last story, is in sharp contrast with Ali of the first story. I was hoping to present a spectrum of men starting from Ali who takes advantage of the system, to Diako who is called docile and “not a man” by his own sister, but maintains a beautiful relationship with his wife. However, the question is whether Diako would still stand up to the patriarchal culture if his wife was not diagnosed with cancer. I think men are pushed towards being abusive sometimes without even recognizing it. And, unfortunately, what encourages a man to use his power can be a woman. Men and women contribute to patriarchy not just men.

Echoes from the Other Land is available in all major book stores and can be ordered through Amazon.com and .ca as well as the publisher’s website, www.tsarbooks.com. People can also easily order the book through their local book stores. All the links to the online shopping, reviews of Echoes from the Other Land, readings, interviews and free excerpts are available at www.AvaHoma.com.

Susan Holbrook calls Echoes “a prismatic portrait of Iran that resists both internal tyrannies and Western demonization.”

M.G. Vassanji calls them, “Fine stories, subtle and evocative, disturbing in their impact.”

But the last word goes to Homa. “A book, unlike media, is a three-dimensional portrayal of life, and for those who want to really understand the complexities of Iran, Echoes from the Other Land presents a real and honest image.”

Do you have a story to tell about your reading or writing? Send it to clelia@openbooktoronto.com.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad