I received an advanced copy of When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner, CBS correspondent, from Celadon books. I was absolutely charmed and devastated. This book was about Martha’s friendship with Carol Fertig, designer, during her journey with cancer, as well as her role in caretaking for Harry, Carol’s dog. Martha was introduced to Carol because they both had bull terriers. She would take her dog, Minnie, out every day to the market in NYC, when an acquaintance came up to her and asked her if she would be interested in meeting Carol and Harry. From here, a friendship bloomed while Carol’s health declined. Harry’s health was quite unstable as well, but Martha became enamored with him. When Carol eventually passed, Harry became a part of Martha and Minnie’s family.
This book was bursting with emotion. If you’ve ever had a pet that you’ve cared deeply for, this book encompassed the beauty and tragedy of that. Dogs will love you like no other, unconditionally. They’ll bring you happiness, but there’s also the inevitable sadness when they pass. This struck me deeply, as I have dogs that are aging quickly, as dogs do, and accruing health issues. Martha talks honestly about the quirks of bull terriers, and about how costly our pets can be. Somehow, dogs have worked their way into our hearts and we will spend our last dollar keeping them well, just like any other family member.
Another thing that resonated with me was watching a loved one fall into the depths of cancer. Carol’s cancer was a result of 9/11’s proximity to her apartment. Martha describes the way Carol declines, how her speech isn’t the same, but somehow keeps that fire and strength burning. This reminded me of my grandmother. So much diminishes in them but you still see the spark that makes them who they are.
If you want to laugh a bit, if you’re a dog lover, if you have a loved one dealing with cancer, or need a good cry, When Harry Met Minnie is for you. It is filled with heartwarming moments and tearful moments. If you’re from Michigan, you might like this even a bit more, as Martha talks here and there about her childhood in Traverse City and Leelanau, and her conservation efforts there as an adult.
When Harry Met Minnie will be available February 2nd, 2021.
Wow! What a powerful book. I’ll get to it right off the bat, this was a 4.5 star book to me, rounded up to Goodreads. I’ll be honest though, if you fall as a very far right conservative, especially due to religion, you probably won’t enjoy this book. There’s the challenging of a lot of ultra conservative ideals. I can say that Overlook Press and Abrams Books KILLLLLLLS it with these powerful releases. I think they might be my favorite publishers outside of fantasy, I have enjoyed every book sent my way or purchased from them. This Little Light by Lori Lansens was no exception.
Let us start with a short synopsis. Rory and Fee are on the run after their Christian school is bomber during an Abstinence Ball where they are all pledging their virginity. They perform a cringe-inducing ceremony where they pledge to their fathers to abstain til marriage. Rory is an atheist and decided to partake since all of her friends did and it was an excuse to wear a beautiful dress. The newest addition to their school, Jinny is a Crusader, and has it out for Rory for not believing. When the school gets bombed and Rory gets blamed, Fee ends up along for the ride. While on the run, Rory journals her experience in unpublished blogs (as you not give away their location) and tries to figure out if Jinny set her up.
This all too realistic near-future novel starts out in ultra rich Calabasas (think Kardashians) where fanatical religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. The US has become obsessed with virginity and religion, women’s rights are being stripped, birth control and abortions are banned even in the most serious if circumstances. The country is afire with bounty hunters, seeking out those running underground services for women to receive safe womanly care. The bounty on Rory and Fee climbs in the millions. Everyone is obsessed with religion and purity, though they don’t practice what they preach behind closed doors. Affairs, fake celibacy, sexual aggression towards minors, scoffing at the poor when passing by them on the streets. Fake activism, writing passages about the huddled masses and how Jesus loved the poor, but calling them free loaders, wishing death upon the homeless “dirtying” their streets, and not stopping to help but scurrying last disdainfully.
“We write essays about Jesus’s love for the poor and disenfranchised then go shop Louis and Prada. We laze around our pools snarking in those who have no, idolizing those who have a shit-Tom. We’re jumping back and forth all day long—spiritual double Dutch—-and it makes me seriously dizzy.”
There’s a large look at the way the ultra rich hide behind conservatism fiscally, and how that can outweigh morality. People that are okay with their taxes and money being used to help the downtrodden get called bleeding hearts or libtards (which is thrown around in this book). Conducive to many instances in real life, this novel highlights the way greed can overshadow the love that religion is supposed to teach. The longing to control women, preaching abstinence to them while turning a blind eye to whatever the men do. Measuring the length of their skirts or shorts because they are supposed to be your idea of pure, which in theory itself is ridiculous, because no woman’s body is the same. These guidelines, checking for fingertips against shorts, using a yardstick for “skirting” in religious schools, are objectionable not only because clothes lay different on our bodies than the next person, but because a woman’s body shouldn’t be surveyed for how appropriate we deem it. The swell of a breast is immodest? Your thigh? These are social constructs and Lori Lansens highlights what happens when we let people run away with commanding women and their bodies.
Rory talks and thinks like a teenage girl, if not an intelligent one. Though she’s an atheist and a free spirit, she’s also afraid to fully break away from the crowd. Her friends go to a Christian school, so she does. Her friends attend an abstinence ball, so she does. They follow the Kardashians and like expensive clothes, so she does. She isn’t a perfect character. She’s an utterly believable teenage girl. She has hidden biases even though she’s more accepting than the other girls. She’s Jewish and her mother is an immigration lawyer, so she is more accepting of people of different culture and religion, as she’s been exposed to a wider worldview. She also understands that she has a lot to learn about racism, feminism, and privilege.
“The thing is, I don’t want to be a dick. The racism thing? The white privilege thing? The white feminist thing? I want to understand it all, and acknowledge it beyond the obvious, and I actually wanna get this shit right.”
I loved the juxtaposition of Jinny, a devout “virgin” used to market the Crusader cause while being this very sex kittenish bombshell. It really highlights the way women are salivated over for their virginity and the unhealthy obsession with it. It reminded me of how Britney Spears was marketed as this virgin sex icon to sell records, even though it was later found out that she wasn’t (and it shouldn’t matter what she was doing with her own life anyway).
The virginity pledge was straight creeeeeepy too. They essentially pledged to keep their virginity to their dads until they are married, but the way that it was done reminded me of certain weird politicians and celebrities that fawn over their daughters’ sex appeal and ability to be chaste. This happens closer to home, too, it’s just easy to cite people that are in the public eye. The fascination from men about their daughter’s sex life is really unhealthy and concerning, when they are fine with their sons doing whatever they want.
“You are my light. You are my love. And I promise Heaven up above. That I’ll keep you pure as the driven snow, till the day I have to let you go. I’ll always be your daddy. You’ll be my baby girl. One day I will share you, but until then you’ll wear my pearl.”
Makes you feel icky, right? Lori Lansens touches on everything; gaslighting victims, women’s reproductive rights, fake activism, hidden biases, fanatical religion, fiscal vs moral responsibility. I devoured this book over the span of a few hours. It was very easy to read, intelligent, witty, and important. If you were a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, you might enjoy this one too. I find that it is a middle ground between our current reality and the severity of that book/show. The character of Chase was a bit too neatly wrapped up and more thoroughly introduced right at the end, but I enjoyed it alla. This Little Light came out earlier this month and you can purchase it now. Thank you to Overlook and Abrams for sending me a finished copy for an honest review!
“Your whole life has been true. It happened to you.”
Thank you to Abrams Press for sending me a review copy of The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg. This memoir is a quick, intelligent read revolving around Molly’s life and her journey with identifying her sexuality. While married, she finds herself intensely attracted to another woman when she is called into jury duty. Throughout her life, she had thought she identified as straight. She thought of sexuality as linear: you are straight or you are gay/lesbian. As time went on, she found that what we think of as “girl crushes” were actual sexual attraction to women. She takes us on her journey of finding love with other women, the demise of her marriage and the road to healthy co-parenting, and her current partner’s help in her education on non-binary awareness.
This was one of the quickest books I’ve read in a while. Molly doesn’t preach at you, she gets the confusion towards sexuality and gender identification, as she experienced it herself. Understanding the fluidity involved in those things can be confusing BECAUSE of the fluidity. At one point Molly makes a comment about how she doesn’t think of herself in loving men or women, but in loving a person because they are who she needed at that point in her life, regardless of the body parts they have. She states things much more eloquently than I do and her writing has a balance of poignancy and warmth that is consistent with normal life. There’s a real takeaway here that it’s okay to not pin down your identification, just as much as it is okay to be absolutely sure of how you identify.
“I never fell in love with a man because he was a man, you know? I mean, I wasn’t falling in love with a penis. I loved his body because it was his.”
There was also a raw look at motherhood and the dissolve of her marriage, about moments of selflessness and selfishness. There’s emotions of separating from someone you dearly love, but doesn’t complete that part of your soul anymore. The terror and guilt of your child being affected by your decisions. The loneliness of motherhood can bring about some scary and amazing resolutions that Molly has to face.
“While a woman is taking care, who takes care of her?”
This book is beautiful, captivating, and personal. At the end, you’ll feel like Molly is an old friend catching you up about everything that happened to her in the last few years. If you are looking for a book about divorce, motherhood, gender and sexual fluidity, this is a perfect read. If you’re not, try it out, you might still get something out of it and learn from it.
The Fixed Stars releases August 4th! Thank you again to Abrams Press and Molly Wizenberg.
3.5 rounded up to 4 stars for The Switch by Beth O’Leary. Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Audio for this copy to review! This was a charming little story that starts out when Leena has a meltdown at work. As she is still coping with the death of her sister, her work MAKES her take a two month sabbatical. She calls her grandmother, Eileen, who is trying to find life and love after her husband leaves her for a younger lady. In a moment of genius, they decide to switch homes and take on each other’s cities and responsibilities. In this novel, our characters will find love, themselves, and most importantly, each other. At the heart of this story, is family. It’s generations women lifting each other up. This was a cozy novel and the perfect book to take your mind off the hectic world and remember all of those warm and fuzzy feelings that come about when people that love you are looking out for you. O’Leary writes witty, relatable stories.
One thing she opened my eyes up to was the mistreatment of the elderly. Not in the physically abusive sense, but in the sense that we tend to lump every old person into the same ornery categories. We treat them almost childlike. She made a remark about how when older people try to find love late in life, we almost scoff at them or giggle about it. Our elderly are often forgotten and isolated.
As for the audio, DELIGHTFUL. I would be withholding if I didn’t tell you that I picked up this audio solely because Daisy Edgar-Jones narrated Leena’s portion. Her voice is like velvet. I could listen to her speak all day. After having seen Normal People, I knew that I would enjoy listening simply for the sake of listening. Just lovely. Alison Steadman did a fantastic job for Eileen as well, with her crisp, elegant voice.
His & Hers by Alice Feeney is my first foray into Netgalley audiobooks! Yay for Netgalley adding audio! Thrillers can be fun to listen to, especially when you have great narrators. I think Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine were superb. They did a great job at conveying moods and tones, enunciation was crisp even at 2x speed. I liked the voice modified narration for the killer, as it didn’t give away any clues about who it was. That was a really neat touch that I haven’t seen (or rather, heard) done in a thriller audiobook yet.
I’ve read and enjoyed Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie, and the same can be said for this novel. I always find her hard to rate, too. She has a different writing style than the popcorn typical thriller, which is a good thing. Things are a bit darker with her. As usual, there were so many twists and turns, it gave me a bit of whiplash. I really didn’t guess the killer, even though this novel offers you quite a few possibilities. These are definitely novels that will do well on television or film, they practically play out as a movie in your head. I would think I had it all figured out and it switched many, many times. I think if Feeney had gone any other route, it would have been too predictable. I won’t give any plot because there’s potential spoilers with anything I would describe. Just know that Feeney writes intoxicatingly and you’ll easily be sucked into this novel if you’re looking for a thriller. After a lot of debate, I give this a 4/5 stars. Though the twists could be a bit much at times, I found myself wanting to return to this audiobook and found myself searching out tasks around my house just so I could listen to it while doing so. Thank you to Netgalley and Flatiron for the opportunity to listen and review His & Hers, which comes out on July 28th.
“You any good at it?” “I’m a Matsuda.” “I don’t know what that means.” “It means ‘yes,’” Mamoru said.
*takes a deep breath, lets it out* Well, if I was the long-stream-of-expletive type of gal, I’d be letting ‘em roar. Okay, who am I kidding. I am that type of girl but I know some of you aren’t, so I’ll tone it down… but HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLY SHIT. Sorry. There’s only a few series that have inspired this passion in me. All time: Rothfuss and Hobb, extending somewhat further to Martin. Last year: Abercrombie and Wendig (Wanderers specifically). This year: John Gwynne. And now: M.L. Wang. The Sword of Kaigen. If you’ve heard any sort of accolade about this book, it is well deserved. I expected to enjoy this like I do most fantasy series. I did not expect to have my heart racing, to have my mind consumed by it during daily activities, for it to be the type of book that I long to get back to. There was never a moment of boredom. In the beginning, my only hindrance was learning the terms well enough to be able to continue without a hitch. I am often that person that goes through the whole novel trying to figure out terms without checking to see if there is a glossary in the back. Thankfully, I had the foresight to check out the glossary, so the sailing was smooth. Every unknown term is back there, I promise.
“We can’t claim to be crime-fighters if we disrespect life just as much as the criminals we fight.”
This is an extremely action-packed story. To be honest, I’m not usually that fond of huge battles or constant battles. I tend to glaze over for them, which is ironic, since fantasy is ripe with battle scenes and it’s my most-read genre. John Gwynne and Joe Abercrombie are some of the few authors I have read that write battle scenes well enough that I pay attention throughout the whole battle. Sword of Kaigen can now be added to that list. It starts off with the fight scenes with almost… vigilante superheroes. Misaki’s formative years are much different from her years as she matures, but we start out at Daybreak Academy, where she fights crime with her good friend Robin. Eventually she marries and settles down, hiding her fighting roots from her family. Years down the road, the fighting comes to her home and her whole family is pulled into the fight. This is where the REAL fighting happens. We watch various characters train throughout but you haven’t seen the least of what they can do until this moment. Absolutely breathtaking battle scenes start to take place. It feels like a punch to the gut, I had to put the book down at moments because it was so hard to read, my adrenaline was SOARING.
“We hold this line!” Uncle Takashi boomed. “We hold this line!” the other fighters echoed, matching his ferocity. “We are the Sword of Kaigen!” “We are the Sword of Kaigen!”
If you have any biased or sexist thoughts that women can’t write fantasy, check yourself. This is a prime example of women writing some damn glorious, and often, gory fantasy. What’s even better, it isn’t gory for the sake of being gory. It’s war. It’s ugly. It isn’t glorified. It’s traumatizing and scary and terrible. There’s beauty in fighting well, but there’s always the terrifying devastation of carnage that goes with any physical fight. People you love will die in this book.
“I believe this is why the two greatest empires are Yamma, built on the power of fire, and our own Kaigen, built on the power of water. The two exist in this realm, not to destroy one another, but to create a balance.”
The contrast of these harsh, brutal scenes with the tender, beautiful scenes is exactly the universal balance that these characters take comfort in. There’s a constant theme of yin/yang, light/dark that runs throughout the book. The balance of nature. With every tragedy, there’s a moment of grace and symmetry. The contrast of the man Misaki wanted to marry, to the man she actually married. Her father has a prediction for the man she wanted to marry and what it would mean for their family, and the ironic thing is, for that exact prediction… his worry was about the wrong man. There’s a lot more to her relationship with both men than first meets eyes and there’s a balance between the two men.
“For fifteen years Misaki had lamented being fated to raise her husband’s sons. All that time, she hadn’t considered that these boys might have something of her in them too.”
We go back and forth between Misaki’s narrative and her son, Mamoru. Misaki doesn’t hide that her bitterness at marrying her husband, Takeru, spoiled the love she “should” have felt immediately for her sons. While it makes me sad that Mamoru grew up without feeling the full envelopment of a mother’s love (especially when his father isn’t exactly warm), it reminds us that motherhood isn’t for everyone. Women are told that that’s their purpose when maybe, just maybe, alll women aren’t maternal. Even more so, the fact that Misaka probably would have been more maternal if she was allowed to choose the way she mothered is sad. Instead, she spent years denying a major part of herself. When she’s finally able to reconnect with the fighter that she was prior to getting married, she feels that intense maternal protection of her family. I think that’s so relatable to motherhood in general, as mothers often sacrifice a lot of who they were to become a mother. It takes time to find a balance between the mother you want to be, the person you were, and the person you’re becoming.
“Listen, son… when I was your age, I had to face truths that seemed to break the world. That’s what happens when you come into contact with people who aren’t quite like you. You learn over time that the world isn’t broken. It’s just… got more pieces to it than you thought. They all fit together, just maybe not the way you pictured when you were young.”
As for Takeru, I absolutely hated him throughout the entiiiiire book, almost. M.L. Wang shows her masterful writing with him. I longed for some Takeru chapters earlier because I wanted to get into his head. I didn’t think there could possibly be anything to make me see his side. The way she set this up was so effectively done. I also like that Wang acknowledges that sometimes burning, passionate love isn’t the best love. Sometimes that love can consume until there’s nothing left, can be dangerous. Often, a love that makes you feel safe, that is constant, that has the soft strumming of home to it, is the most sustainable love.
“Falleke!” Kwang swore. “You guys in this village really believe all this stuff, don’t you? You believe everything the government tells you?” “Why wouldn’t we?” Itsuki asked earnestly. “You must see what’s happening here.” Kwang’s voice was almost imploring as he looked from one face to the next. “The emperor is using you.”
I think my favorite part about this book was how it addressed government propaganda, especially in this day and age. Especially RIGHT NOW, when there is a conversation about the sanitization of American history and skewing the facts so that they fit the narrative of what the government wants to sell its citizens. There’s also this idea that you’re supposed to have blind loyalty to your country —that you’re not supposed to question them— that is addressed here. It was a hard pill for some of our characters to swallow, while others were completely aware of this. I think that’s cohesive to our daily lives.
“You’re patriotic and loyal. You’re exactly what everyone’s told you to be.”
There’s this notion that people are meant to die for their country and if you don’t want to do that or you don’t believe in what your country is selling, that you’re not a true citizen. That’s ridiculous and I’m glad that Wang takes that on. It is okay to be proud of your country but you should never blind yourself because of your service to your country.
“The world doesn’t need another powerful theonite trying to force his idea of justice on a city of adyns. That’s not what I’m going to be.”
Another thing I found so in tune with today’s world was addressing brutality from people that have sworn to protect. Robin refuses to kill just to protect himself or others. He refused to be cruel to get his job done. He would rather disarm. Maybe M.L. Wang had the foresight that these conversations were long overdue, or maybe they were just ideals of her own that she wanted to put out into the world, but she puts into words what a lot of people haven’t been able to.
“The power of gods rose, thunderous, like a wave inside Mamoru, and he rode the swell, moving his body with it. As the wave hit its apex, he sent its full force down his arm, through his open palm, into the ice.”
I really loved the pureness of Robin. I liked how Misaki was able to open up like no other when she was around him. There was the air of gentleness that mixed with the fierceness of so many of these warriors. The story starts off so softly, almost dreamlike, and quickly turns into a raging symphony of words, revelations, and war. There’s some absolutely devastating moments that made my heart break, but in the end I was left feeling so satisfied. I’m also a self-professed book masochist. The more heartbreak, the more I end up liking it. The magic system in this was glorious, too. It was a mixture of the elements and science, the power of gods, and sheer will that was awe inspiring. The culture shines through and jumps off the page. M.L. Wang will forever be an author to keep your eye on. If I could give this 100 stars on goodreads, I would. I ended up highlight 58 quotes in my kindle. I was so thankful that I read it on kindle first and ordered a paperback after. For all of the quotes that I put in this review, I easily could have put a dozen more. I was thinking how I would love to see Robin and Misaki’s kids at Daybreak Academy together and then read that her previous books DO involve Robin’s son, at least. If you’re thinking about reading The Sword of Kaigen, just do it!
“A decade later, a fifteen-year-old Hiroshi would become known as the youngest swordsman ever to master the Whispering Blade. What the world would never know, was that he was the second youngest.”
Happy Publishing Day to Trinidad native @carolinemackenziewrites! This was such a fun story. Yola is in the midst of grieving her Aunt Celia when a dangerous man named Ugly pays her family a visit. He brings it to their attention that Celia owes him A LOT of money and he expects them to work off her debt. So begins the journey of using their family homes to harbor the illegal immigrants that Ugly moves across borders for extortionate fees. The matter is made more complicated when Yola falls in lust with Roman, Ugly’s strong arm.
This writing won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. It’s frank and honest. Forewarning, since I know some of my friends on here have strong religious convictions towards sexuality and sexual partners, this isn’t a book for you. I am not religious in the least, so no issue for me. Yola is crass and bold and comfortable in her own body. There was a lot of body positivity in this novel. There were serious moments and hilarious moments. The relationship between Roman and Yola was actually really tender. I liked that Caroline didn’t try to tell the immigrant story since she’s a native, but rather showed the interactions between the immigrants and Yola’s family. It all ended up working towards an ending that I was quite surprised about.
A few thoughts: I actually didn’t think Yola was as “bitchy” as everyone said. She is a strong woman that says her mind, but I found that as a strength. Her Aunt Celia is definitely a different story. She says some things that are pretty awful, sometimes very politically incorrect. I didn’t enjoy the aspect of her older brother dating a minor/just turned 18 year old girl. I don’t condone that in any way and couldn’t get that part of the story, even though they ended up working out okay with the way the storyline went. All in all, I enjoyed this a lot but had a few issues! I found myself wanting to skip forward to the times between Roman and Yola because their encounters were the most interesting to me! All that said, I would definitely read more of Caroline’s writing.
Okay, The Bromance Book Club caught my eye a while ago and it was on sale so I finally bought it! I usually don’t do reviews for chick-lit/romance novels but this one inspired me to do so. It actually rated a 4/5 stars for me. First off, I thought that the concept of a book about a group did men reading romance novels to connect with their wives more was super endearing.
“Don’t be ashamed for liking them. The backlash against the PSL [Pumpkin Spice Latte] is a perfect example of how toxic masculinity permeates even the most mundane things in life. If masses of women like something, our society automatically begins to mock them. Just like romance novels. If women like them, they must be a joke, right?”
That quote, though! Wow! What a true statement. There is that internalized misogyny towards women when it comes to making fun of the things that a large amount of women like. Other women even get in on it because it makes them “the cool girl.” I loved that there was this group of men actively discussing toxic masculinity and the shaming tactics used on women. Obviously, this was written by a woman author, so these are fictional men, but I think it points out that men in this day and age are becoming more aware of those issues.
“That’s why fiction resonates with people. It speaks to universal truths.”
These characters weren’t perfect and Gavin and Thea both had their faults. Gavin didn’t realize Thea was “faking it” their whole marriage and Thea didn’t take the time to address the issues in their marriage and just shut down completely and wanted to quit. I liked that Thea didn’t chase after him, but there were moments where I wanted her to discuss the issues instead of putting all the blame on him. For his part, Gavin obviously wasn’t paying enough attention to his wife if he didn’t realize she was unsatisfied throughout their relationship. I loved this group of guys holding him accountable and getting angry at him for these stupid, thoughtless mistakes he would make instead of turning a blind eye. The streak of humor that ran through it actually made me laugh out loud.
“The room finally erupted like he knew it eventually would. Every man jumped to his feet. Del began to pace, punching his fist into his other hand. Malcolm stroked his jingly beard and starting chanting like a monk. Mack shoveled angry forkfuls of brown noodles into his mouth, alternating between eating and pointing a silent, angry finger in Gavin’s general direction.”
There were also moments that were so off base that I was like… I hope men don’t read this and take it as the end all, be all. Like when Thea says that women love when suggestively men wink at them? No. I’d be more likely to laugh in their face.
“It absolutely is true. A woman remembers every time a man winks at her, because we love winking. It’s like catnip. Wink at us, and we roll over and start purring.”
No… get that crap out of here. I am cringing just reading that quote again. I loved how she normalized marriage issues though. She mentions how people change their entire lives and you need to address that change instead of just pretending that it isn’t happening. When you marry someone, you can’t expect that person to be the same person their entire life.
““All spouses become strangers to each other at some point in a marriage,” Del said. “All human beings are a work in progress, and we don’t all change at the same pace. Who knows how many people have gotten divorced simply because they failed to recognize that what they thought were insurmountable problems were actually just temporary phases?”
All in all, this was enjoyable. It was fun and hilarious and perceptive. I actually want to continue the series because I enjoyed it so much more than I thought. I’m glad this lived up to the hype!
“Good. First rule of book club?” They finished in unison. “You don’t talk about book club.”
“Trees and flowers bloom despite human barbarism. Maybe I can too?”
Happy Release Day to Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa! You can pick this novel up starting today. One of the first novels written in English by a Kurdish woman, this book is a beacon for Kurds everywhere. I was woefully ignorant of their plight beyond minor knowledge of ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. We have all heard of the different customs, torture, and outright genocide, but when you live the US, it’s easy to view these as nightmarish tales used to scare us into valuing our freedoms. This is a deeper look into the things we hear, and while it may not be the experience of everyone, it is certainly the experience of many Kurds. The Kurdish people are an estimated 30-40 million and are stateless, having been denied land, forbidden to speak their own language and practice their own customs.
“I can’t fucking stand the degradation anymore. If you are a leftist, they kill you; if you are an activist, they kill you; even if you don’t believe in anything and just say ‘Yes, sir,” they kill you. Maybe not physically, but they kill you inside.”
Leila is our primary voice and she’s expresses how the only people treated worse than a Kurd, is a Kurdish woman. She lives in a world where women set their own bodies on fire rather than go on living the painful lives they are allowed, where anything traumatic that happens to a woman is only what she deserved, where SHE can be punished for a man raping her. Through Leila’s eyes, I learned about the Peshmerga, a group that fights for security and an independent Kurdish state. They were partly responsible for the capture of Saddam Hussein and their name literally means, “those that face death”. They are quite revolutionary for their region. Leila’s brother is an activist that has followed in his father’s footsteps, and though he is younger, Leila looks up to his strength and courage in the face of tyranny. In the US, we make jibes about the government’s ability to make us discreetly disappear if they wanted to, without any real concern of it. Where they live, the government will bust in your house in light of day and shoot you for having banned books or torture you for the slightest bit of “progressive” thinking. Leila and her friend Shiler live under the constant threat of the morality police, that will sentence you as they please for any impure contact with a man. Leila, at one point, is hit by a car and is terrified that she will be ruined in the eyes of her father because of the possibility that her hymen broke from the impact. The world that these women live in is completely different from what I am used to. Leila eventually has an opportunity at life in a new area and she marvels at the differences. She is able to see the beauty in her culture and religion when not surrounded by an oppressive government, the beauty in the choice instead of the cruel hand suffocating her with the requirement of all that she’s supposed to be, all the rules of how a woman must act.
A large part of the novel focuses on her brother’s activism, which is modeled loosely around Farzad Kamangar. Throughout his imprisonment and torture that transpired because of his work, Leila publishes his words and it spreads like wildfire. His words offer hope and a huge focus for him is progressiveness for women. Throughout this, he inspired Kurdish women to fight, protest, and learn more about their forbidden culture and language. Hence, the title Daughters of Smoke and Fire. This novel is a testament to the willpower it takes to fight those who would do anything they can to take away your humanity and leave your life in ruin. It’s a recognition of the women that would rather die a fiery death than live a life where they are barely acknowledged as human.
“Women who lost all reason to live wanted their internalized, burning rage to manifest on the outside too. A dramatic death testified to an agonizing life.”
It’s a novel like this that reminds me why people flee their homes and face judgement for immigrating, or the possibility of being torn from their families because they had to leave too hastily to apply legally. Whatever you feel on the immigration process, you cannot read a book like this and not feel empathy for those that are forced to take this route. Sometimes it’s the choice between an unmarked grave in a oppressive country or a jail cell in a “safe” country. It’s the choice of a country that you know the language and customs, but could be killed at any moment, or a country that offers you security but doesn’t fully welcome you, that wants you to adhere to their customs.
Ava Homa writes a novel that expresses the pain and terror that the Kurdish people experience. It’s heart-rending in its injustice, but it isn’t self-pitying. It’s a novel about finding your strength when it doesn’t seem possible, about making revolutionary moments with simple words and actions, with a gentle hand in contrast to the abuse suffered. This is one of the best novels I will read all year, and easily five stars. Homa writes piercingly and her story will quickly grab hold and set root into your heart. I marvel at the strength and courage it must take to write a novel such as this, the author herself is just as important to the Kurdish cause as she has portrayed her characters as being.