PACIFIC GROVE — This novel is a work of fiction. But it’s not made up. The story, of a young woman’s determined and often dangerous pursuit of freedom and justice for her brother, is truly an allegory for more real-life circumstances than the author can count. Or care.
“Daughters of Smoke and Fire”, a debut novel by Ava Homa, is set primarily in Iran, where the author escorts her audience through the daily lives of her people, the Kurds, not from the safety of cheap seats , but up close, immersed in the struggle.
Raised in the Kurdish region of Iran, Homa seized the opportunity to escape everything that limited her opportunities for personal development and actualization in her native country and immigrated to Canada, where she obtained her master’s degree in English. and creative writing. This is where she developed her voice.
“‘Daughters of Smoke and Fire’ is an extremely personal and powerful look at a Kurdish family living under the oppression of a cruel and often brutal Iranian government,” said fellow author and playwright Steve Hauk. “It was written in English because Kurds are ‘discouraged’ from using their own language −− much of this psychological cruelty. Much of what Ava writes is incredibly relevant today.
Growing up without the safety of a peaceful environment, Homa might have normalized the suffering, trauma, and political strife she witnessed among her people, had she not discovered writing as a vehicle for to help give meaning to his life and to all that is happening. around her. Sometimes she would write stories and then act them out for her siblings to help them imagine the possibility of a better life.
“As a Kurdish woman in an oppressive environment,” she said, “there were really few places where I could escape. But I discovered that I could explore another experience through books. Years later, I wanted to give the world the gift of perspective, to give them a chance to journey into the lives of my people from the safety of their own home, where they could witness moments of cruelty and injustice as well as defiance and redemption.”
The Kurdish people are an ethnic group of some 40 million stateless people originating from a mountainous region known as Kurdistan, which stretches from southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran and north of Syria. Kurds also populate enclaves in other parts of the Middle East, and diaspora communities have sought refuge in Istanbul and various cities in Europe.
In his desire to inspire transformation, Homa sought to help people who live so far and safely away from his experiences, to transform their sense of his people into something more compassionate −− to expand readers’ consciousness. around something potentially quite alien or remote from their experiences.
“My goal,” she said, “is to turn pain into poetry and rejection into fuel. When I first submitted my work, I kept hearing, ‘It’s beautiful, but no one wants to read about the Middle East. I understand that from what people have heard of it, but I wanted to offer an evocative story of what life is really like there.
Part of her process, developing her own perspective on her culture and all that she had witnessed and experienced in Iran, meant creating distance with her, emigrating from her home, which led her first to Canada , then in California.
The trauma of transition
When Ava Homa moved to Canada, she left behind everyone and everything she knew to pursue her higher education. She saw it as a step towards becoming who she wanted to be, breaking free from being a minority woman in an oppressive community, and beginning to shape her world. Landing in Toronto, Canada’s largest city with a large immigrant population, Homa appreciated its great multicultural diversity and the unexpected opportunity to meet her husband, real estate agent Sam Attar. Yet, lacking a connection to the community and lamenting her limited access to nature, she became restless in her inability to get out and explore the natural environment.
So, Homa and Attar came to California and settled in a small town that emerged from a pine forest near the bay, known as Pacific Grove.
“I have the desire and the need to belong. When I’m paddling in the bay or hiking in the mountains, she says, I’m not a stranger with an accent; I fit in perfectly with nature. It inspires me to be creative and helps me find inner peace.
All the trauma that Homa inherited from her ancestors and that she accumulated in her own life gave her many tools to write, but also heavy loads to bear.
“Nature is my mother. The mountains of Big Sur are my father and the ocean is my mother. The trees and the flowers look at me the same way they look at any other person here −− not my gender, race or background, but me. There is such healing,” she said, “in knowing that.
Home is where you belong
Having lived half his life in the East and the other half in the West, Homa thinks he has seen more similarities than differences between the populations. Maybe it’s because people tend to see what they want, or maybe it’s an observation that goes beyond surface assumptions to the essence.
“All over the world,” she said, “we experience the same range of emotions, fear, disappointment, grief and grief. The Orient has many colors, flavors, spirituality and deep human connections to offer. Instead of divorcing these two worlds, instead of separating them, each of us within ourselves can nurture both sides of the world and through that grow as humans.
Homa acknowledges that most migration stories focus on hardship, just like hers. But the thesis woven throughout his text bears the essential characteristic that makes migration possible. Hope.
“I recognize that it is often difficult to build a whole new life in a country that you were not born in,” she said, “but it gives you the opportunity to cross borders, to ‘Broaden perspective, grow and change in ways you may not be able to do in your home country.
Published in 2020 by The Overlook Press, “Daughters of Smoke and Fire” won the 2020 Silver Nautilus Book Award for Fiction. In May, it was shortlisted for the 2022 William Saroyan Prize for Writing. The book is available from River House Books at The Crossroads Carmel, from Bookworks in Pacific Grove, and online.