We are excited to welcome to The Debutante Ball Ava Homa, who is the critically-acclaimed of the novel DAUGHTERS OF SMOKE AND FIRE which is hailed by the Independent in the UK, the Globe and Mail in Canada, and the Reader’s Digest as one of the best new fictions. Her collection of short stories ECHOES FROM THE OTHER LAND was nominated for the Frank O’Connor International Prize. She holds a Master’s Degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor in Canada.
About the Book:
The unforgettable, haunting story of a young woman’s perilous fight for freedom and justice for her brother, the first novel published in English by a female Kurdish writer.
Set in Iran, this extraordinary debut novel takes readers into the everyday lives of the Kurds. Leila dreams of making films to bring the suppressed stories of her people onto the global stage, but obstacles keep piling up. Leila’s younger brother Chia, influenced by their father’s past torture, imprisonment, and his deep-seated desire for justice, begins to engage with social and political affairs. But his activism grows increasingly risky and one day he disappears in Tehran. Seeking answers about her brother’s whereabouts, Leila fears the worst and begins a campaign to save him. But when she publishes Chia’s writings online, she finds herself in grave danger as well.
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
I am a bibliophile and read in three languages: Kurdish, Persian, and English. Some of the books I’ve read recently are “clever” and “polished” but lack depth and humanity. They appeal to the readers’ intellect but fail to nourish the heart and so they leave you with a subtle sense of hollowness.
The author with the most long-lasting impact on me is the classic Persian poet Rumi. I started reading him from a young age and throughout my adolescence so his work shaped my philosophy of life. To this day, he is one of my main references.
Later, I came across echoes of his wisdom in Western philosophy and religion, mainly works by the American author, Joseph Campbell who studies mythology. I was rejoiced when I discovered Rumi’s ideas in Buddhism and Hinduism too. In the virtual world, I see Rumi misquoted all over the internet. When I read him in English, I see how much of the beauty and depth of his works is lost in translation.
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from Rumi is that this world is a classroom and the measure of our advancement in the curriculum is our ability to love and forgive, and to transform negative input into positive outputs, for example, our capacity to strive for justice even when we suffer from injustice, as opposed to becoming an accomplice to the status quo, that is, normalized inequalities.
I think for us writers, Rumi’s philosophy speaks to our ability to transform pain into art, into powerful stories, into bearing witness to the suffering, joy, and resilience of misrepresented or underrepresented groups.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why?
Personal historian Rachael Rifkin is my first reader. I trust her intelligence, her writing skill, and her friendship. She understands me, makes time for me and when I am lost, she offers me direction. I try to do the same for her.
When I was writing my article on Writing and Resistance, I sent her a draft. She read it and wrote a few sentences to help me with the ending. Her sentences inspired me to completely rewrite my piece from a new angle. The article went on to be widely read and was translated into Portuguese. I am grateful to have her in my life.
Rachael is also my accountability buddy. We specify our weekly writing goals and hold each other accountable to them. It helps. I think many writers can benefit from having a trustworthy accountability buddy.
Tell us what you’re looking forward to reading. I have an ever-growing to-read list. Here are some of the titles I am excited to read:
WAITING FOR THE NIGHT SONG by Julie Carrick Dalton. It’s a climate novel that explores the links between the climate crisis, immigration, and racism.
THE EXIT STRATEGY by Lainey Cameron whom you recently interviewed. I am intrigued by the premise of the story and need an insight into the sexism that’s rampant in the Silicon Valley.
A DOOR BETWEEN US by Ehsaneh Sadr is set in the country I know so well, Iran, and looks at how political ideologies can shatter families. She also explores free will and the short-term and long-term effects of the choices one makes.
THE TALKING DRUM by Lisa Braxton is a timely title I am eager to read, especially in the wake of BLM. It sheds light on race and class.
SEVEN by Farzana Doctor addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, FGM, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion, and healing.
A GOOD FAMILY by A.H. Kim, is a drama full of surprising secrets and twists and turns.
THE KINDEST LIE by Nancy Johnson is another timely novel that deals with race, class, and police brutality.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
I’d tell her, Ava, beware not to get caught in the publishing rollercoaster, its euphoria and subsequent crashes. Stay detached from the highs and lows as much as you can and remember that “this too shall pass.”
Don’t let the games of power and politics eat your soul. The fulfillment you seek is found only within you. Dig deep.
Keep on writing only if you think it makes you a better human, more aware, more sympathetic. Does the world really need your story?
I’d post this quote on her desk
“What is it we are questing for?
It is the fulfillment of that which is potential in each of us. Questing for it is not an ego trip; it is an adventure to bring into fulfillment your gift to the world, which is yourself. There is nothing you can do that’s more important than being fulfilled.
You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way you will find, live, become a realization of your own personal myth.”
Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
Tell us about a book that made you cry.
EXILE MUSIC by Jennifer Steil is a really powerful and beautifully-written novel that tells the story of Orly, a Jewish girl in Vienna whose family is exiled to Bolivia in 1938. It is one of those impactful books we talked about earlier, a book that exudes warmth and humanity.
I cried when I read a short passage near the end about how Jewish children were brutalized when fascism ruled. The scene was incredibly vivid and emotional and it reminded me of how the childhood of many Kurdish kids continued to be robbed today and the world still turns a deaf ear.
I cried then and I cry often for Blacks, for Kurds, for the indigenous population, for how brutal humans can be to humans. After the cathartics, I find inspiration in reading about human’s ability to rise above oppression.
About Daughters of Smoke and Fire
Daughters of Smoke and Fire is an evocative portrait of the lives and stakes faced by 40 million stateless Kurds and a powerful story that brilliantly illuminates the meaning of identity and the complex bonds of family, perfect for fans of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun.