Daughters of Smoke and Fire, by Ava Homa
Originally published 2020
Historical Fiction, Literary
Setting: Kurdistan, Iran
[CWs: gendered violence, suicide, death, frequent and varied human rights abuses]
'I started down the hill in a tumbling run and found myself unable to stop. Despite the chill of the evening, I started sweating. The wind whipped my headscarf, and I gained speed. I flapped as if I had wings...
...I stumbled on a stone, crushing the shiny red poppies in the grass. And as I lurched, my untold stories tumbled inside me like pages ripped from a book and tossed, crumpled, into the wastepaper bin. An overpowering urge to scream my story, to expel it from beginning to end, seized me.'
I've really been struggling to find the words to talk about this book. I just want to scream 'READ IT NOW!' however it is also an extremely difficult read and so may need to be approached cautiously. The novel is all the more important, and potentially more upsetting, because though much of the book is set historically many of the events are still playing out in real life in Iran at this exact moment.
This is the first novel to be published in English by a female Kurdish author and takes us right into the heart of the discrimination, violence and oppression faced by Kurds as well as unflinchingly tackling the extreme systemic misogyny faced by women in Iran through the story of Leila and her brother Chia, who begins engaging in dangerous political activism before he suddenly disappears. Leila's desperate fight to locate her brother brings her too into a danger it becomes increasingly hard to escape from.
This book is a reverberating and passionately emotional cry for justice, but also a story of love, family and hope in the darkest of places. Reading much of it felt like a gut punch to the stomach, a breath held for too long in disbelief. Yet Homa's writing is also arrestingly poetic as well as powerful.