Posts Tagged Europa Editions

book review: Disoriental

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Disoriental by Negar Djavadi. Europa Editions| April 2018| 352 pages | $18.00| ISBN: 978-1-60945-451-7

RATING: *****/5*

“Our memories select, eliminate, exaggerate, minimize, glorify, denigrate. They create their own versions of events and serve up their own reality. Disparate, but cohesive. Imperfect yet sincere. In any case, my memory is so crammed with stories and lies and languages and illusions, and lives marked by exile and death, death and exile, that I don’t even really know how to untangle the threads anymore.”

“I have become—as I’m sure everyone does who has left his or her country—someone else. Someone who has translated myself into other cultural codes. Firstly in order to survive, and then to go beyond survival and forge a future for myself.”

A gorgeous, exquisite, smart and meditative novel about an Iranian family and its struggles and triumphs. As Kimia Sadr sits in a fertility clinic in Paris she reminisces about family myths and ancestry. She ponders how she got to be where she is at this moment. She recollects her family history as well as Iran’s history and how it’s made her who she is today. Kimia is a lesbian and she’s decided to have a baby with a man that she met during her travels. He’s HIV+ and so they need to use the clinic. Kimia’s been wandering for years in an attempt to figure out where she belongs. It’s perhaps not in her birth country where she spent the first ten years of her life and it’s not in her adopted country to which she and her family exiled. Being in one’s twenties and figuring out our place in the world can be complicated enough but Kimia had her sexual identity and cultural identity to figure out.

“Raised in a culture where the community takes precedence over the individual, I’d never been so tangibly aware of my own existence. I finally felt like I was in control of my own life. I could make decisions that had nothing to do with the past, or the way an immigrant has to act in order to gain legitimacy in their host country.” And “I was putting myself back together again, rediscovering happiness, getting back on my own two feet, as if after a long illness.” It’s fascinating that Eastern society stresses community and Western society focuses on individuals. Kimia faces prejudices in facing stereotypes of Iran and the Middle East: “Then a long silence, during which I could see in my interlocutor’s eyes that their Iran was located somewhere between Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese Hezbollah, an imaginary country full of Muslim fundamentalists of who I suddenly became the representative.”

For those unfamiliar, it’s the ideal primer to Iranian revolutionary history. Abundant information gets beautifully shared throughout this novel in an accessible and manageable manner. It’s definitely a challenging yet completely rewarding read. In reading Disoriental I was reminded of the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi which also focuses on the disdain for education and intellectualism and its impact on the Iranian Revolution. It’s not that different from our current political climate where well-educated people tend to be less likely to blindly follow a leader. You’ll understand and relate to this novel. Disoriental has been nominated for a National Book Award for Translated Literature. I’m rarely disappointed in Europa editions titles and I need to read them more often.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.

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Divorce Islamic Style: book review

Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous. Publisher: Europa (April 2012). Literary fiction. Trade paperback. 144 pages. 978-1-60945-066-3.

“I have to constantly remind myself that I’m Tunisian, and this neighborhood is full of Egyptians. Many people don’t know that there are rivalries among the Arabs. For example, it’s not smooth sailing between Syrians and Lebanese, between Iraqis and Kuwaitis, between Saudis and Yemenis, and so on and so on. It’s why they can’t come up with a plan for unity, in spite of common history, geography, Arabic, Islam, and oil. The model of the European Union will have to wait!”

In the superb novel Divorce Islamic Style, two characters narrate and propel the events in Rome: Christian, a Sicilian who speaks fluent Arabic and works as an operative for the Italian government; and Sofia, an Egyptian immigrant who runs a hair salon in defiance of her strict Muslim husband.

Christian’s assignment is to uncover a terrorist cell in the Viale Marconi neighborhood. Going by the name of Issa and changing his appearance and mannerisms he infiltrates “Little Cairo” as a Tunisian. He rooms at a boarding house with numerous other immigrants and takes a job washing dishes at an Italian restaurant run by an Egyptian, who turns out to be Sofia’s husband.

I’ve acquired certain habits, like sleeping nude, temperature permitting, or reading before I go to sleep; I love biographies of famous people. Here it is not a good idea to be the self-taught immigrant and passionate reader.

At a hangout spot where people watch Al Jazeera and make calls home, Christian meets Sofia who attracts him with her striking looks and mannerisms. Surprising to Christian, she wears a veil, uncommon in Rome, in Italy, in many Western countries. He discovers that Sofia neither acts conventionally or predictably. Several days before her wedding, Sofia’s husband asked her to wear the veil.

“Put on the veil? Maybe I hadn’t understood. Were we going to live in Italy or Iran? Is the veil compulsory in Rome?
The real problem is that we live in a society where the male is both the opponent and, at the same time, the referee.”

In writing about Sofia’s plight, author Amara Lakhous astutely provides a feminist perspective to this novel in a natural and provocative manner. He brilliantly depicts Rome’s Arab community “Little Cairo.” He satirizes the immigrant community as deftly as modern day Rome and its idiosyncrasies and fears.

I understand the comfort level of creating one’s own community after immigrating to another country. Beyond that though I don’t understand why some immigrants do not assimilate more by learning the new language or befriending natives. Lakhous explains the minutiae within the Arab community and what motivates many to move to other countries. Much can be explained in looking at opportunities in Western countries versus Arab countries where rules might be stricter and prospects fewer. Some Arabs stay in these Western countries and become citizens while others work for a while to better their family situations in their home country.

Born in Algiers in 1970, Amara Lakhous earned degrees in philosophy and cultural anthropology. He now lives in Italy. I adore Divorce Islamic Style so much that I’ve mentioned it several times in casual conversation. I want to recommend it to everyone. It’s fantastic. Snappy. Sharp. Intelligent. Humorous.

–Amy Steele

purchase at Amazon: Divorce Islamic Style

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