This provocative and heart-warming novel, based on a true story, follows an American teacher whose values are challenged in an Iraqi village in 2010.
"Courageous teachers wanted to rebuild war-torn nation." With her marriage over and life gone flat, Theresa Turner responds to an online ad, and lands at a school in Kurdish Iraq. Befriended by a widow in a nearby village, Theresa is embroiled in the joys and agonies of traditional Kurds, especially the women who survived Saddam's genocide only to be crippled by age-old restrictions, brutality and honor killings. Theresa's greatest challenge will be balancing respect for cultural values while trying to introduce more enlightened attitudes toward women - at the same time seeking new spiritual dimensions within herself.
The Kurdish Bike is gripping, tender, wry and compassionate - an eye-opener into little-known customs in one of the world's most explosive regions - a novel of love, betrayal and redemption.
Alesa Lightbourne has been an English professor and teacher in six countries, lived on a sailboat, dined with Bedouins, and written for Fortune 50 companies. She lives close to Monterey Bay in California, where she loves to boogie board and ride a bicycle.
The Kurdish Bike is the narrative account of an American teacher’s journey to Kurdish Iraq. Although entering Iraq as a teacher, Theresa leaves having learned more than expected. On her journey, she immerses the readers into the Kurdish culture. It takes Theresa a while to adapt to the new environment and culture, but after purchasing a bike she is able to acclimate more rapidly.
To her surprise, she experiences but a small taste of the caste system primarily through a Kurdish woman that she becomes friends with. Theresa seeks to help her new friend but understands she must respect the rules of her friend’s home; and as an American woman has a hard time swallowing what she must accept. Her local friends are not always making the best decisions, and Theresa must watch as they reap the consequences. As a teacher in this foreign land, her career is tested, and character threatened.
So, it is only after her divorce that Theresa signs up to teach abroad in Iraq. I did not care for her anecdotal divorce history. At moments throughout her account in Iraq, she has moments of pining for her old life with her husband, and recounts details in her divorce often. It was not pertinent to the story of her life with Kurds and it took away from the culture of the book.
Although fictitious, this work is based upon the author’s time and experiences in Kurdish Iraq. The Author's Afterward is a must read as the author briefly explains important events that transpired during her time there. A glossary is included in the back as a reference to the Arabic words, names, and phrases that were used in the book. I highly enjoyed this novel and recommend it to those with multicultural interests. I did notice minor grammatical errors, but nothing worth toiling over.
I’m so happy to discover another author I completely enjoy. This book gets 5 stars for multiple reasons. First, it’s a debut novel of literary fiction, and to create an excellent book the first time in this genre deserves big applause.
Second, the story is based on experiences the author had while teaching English in Kurdistan. The characters are melds of people she knew at the time. The whole comes together as very real, so real that the reader feels s/he knows the characters too, and wants to find out what may be their lot today. The characters and the locations stay in the reader’s mind – only a fine writer can do that!
Third, the “story” reveals important historical commentary and information about Iraq, Kurdistan, Turkey, and more. How village people, from lowly orphans to rich and powerful families cope and live, is shown. Also included are professionals from other countries who have come to work beside the Kurds. Higher-ranking Kurds were educated abroad in Western universities. The sense of local and international cultures cooperating or clashing is very interesting.
Fourth, there is humor. Every-day giggles, laughter at the unexpected and strange, laughter to cope with fears, at the self, at challenges. There’s bemusement and irony.
Fifth, the issues are large and real. There is tragedy and there is suffering, especially for females of all ages who have to endure second-class status in their traditional power structures. The increasing influence of Western ideas create knowledge and ideals for some, problems for others.
Main characters include Teresa’s fellow teachers Pat and Jake, student Seema, friends Bezma, Ara, and Houda. Also important: Hevar, “family Hevar,” Binny, and school officials Madame, Zaki, and Mohammed.
Most of all, I loved the inner monologue of the writer. The reader doesn’t need to be a teacher to understand the writer’s observations and problems, and how she talks to herself about it. But all the musings, from the first examination of the hills surrounding the school to the reflections on her life’s many directions (failures, loves, triumphs) are appealing to me. Her thoughts are funny, sensitive, and caring. She communicates her love for the local people and fellow teachers beautifully. Her observations become the reader’s. Ultimately, I saluted the wisdom in the book.
All my preconceptions of this book said "stay away"--self published book, the topic is bound to be depressing. But those were wrong. I've worked as an editor, and this book has none of the shortcomings of many self-published books. It's carefully conceived and executed, so there's not one distracting nit in it's publication.
Depressing? No. Scary? Yep. But all the scary bits show Theresa's courage and commitment to her values. I admire her willingness to take risks for the sake of making somebody else's life better. I've taken similar risks in my life, but nothing this dramatic. I do understand the urge to *do something* when your life script gone off plot.
Theresa's teaching situation is Kafkaesque. Things happen that should never happen, especially to somebody as nice and overqualified as she was. But it's in her reactions to the craziness that we see her steady determination to honor her commitments and to be human above all. Her connection to her Kurdish family makes us understand that when we truly know someone, the urge to help is compelling. The times she cannot help are achingly portrayed.
The concluding episode with Hevar lightens the atmosphere of the situation and is a great, galloping finish to a significant story for these times. I can't imagine a better way to learn about a topic we might want to avoid but shouldn't.
The Kurdish Bike works on many levels. Billed as a novel, it has the direct feeling and intensity of a memoir- which the afterword reveals it in some part is. This is a deeply personal story of connections between people from very different cultures, their strong affection and profound differences. In particular, the ways in which women in both American and Kurdish societies deal with the burdens placed on them by their societies- particularly by males- are illustrated with subtlety and insight.
Teresa, the narrator, is a fifty-something American teacher, recently divorced and nearly financially wiped out by her ex-husband. With her only child away at college, she seeks change by taking a position teaching in a for profit school in Kurdistan. This is a grim and rigid institution she comes to refer to as “The Fortress”. The Fortress is populated by a ragtag collection of expats and Middle Easterners who form minor narratives in themselves, but the main thrust of the story is driven by Teresa’s desire for freedom. The “Kurdish Bike” in the title is her means of escape from the confines of the Fortress, of making connections with the Kurdish people in the local village. In the process she discovers much about their devastating recent history, and the millenniums of struggle that have saturated this ancient countryside. Always, the human relationships are at the forefront, conveyed in clear and polished prose, with humor and warmth.
To simply list the issues Teresa encounters in Kurdistan- abandoned women, female genital mutilation, honor killings, the total dominance of women’s lives and decisions by the men in their family, and potential jihadist recruits- would make The Kurdish Bike sound like a grim jeremiad. It is anything but. We are instead led through an engaging and sometimes dramatic story to see the world though new- and less judgmental- eyes. Teresa is continually confronted not just with the challenges women face in Kurdish society, but with the mirroring challenges she faces in her own. The result is a more complex, human, and far more powerful understanding- one that helps to erase the picture of the Kurds as an exotic “other” and lets us see through to our common humanity. And perhaps enables us to see our western culture as sometimes not so advanced as we would like to think.
I am rarely moved to write reviews, and don’t do a lot of book recommending, but I’m passing copies of The Kurdish Bike out to friends and find myself talking and thinking about it a lot. It’s one of the most memorable books I have read in a long, long time. More than a good read, it’s a book you feel good about having read.
The Kurdish Bike recounts the experiences of Theresa Turner, an American teacher who takes up a teaching job in Iraqi Kurdistan. In addition to financial troubles and emotional baggage from a previously failed marriage, Theresa's new environment proves to be challenging, made even more daunting by her new school's rigid guidelines. Determined to make the most of this new chapter in her life, Theresa gets herself a blue bike and sets about exploring a nearby village. She befriends a local mother-daughter duo, Ara and Bezma, who not only become her guides to this new culture, but welcome her with open arms as a part of their small family.
Through her witty and oft amusing monologue, Theresa Turner captures the local lifestyle, as well as the contrast in cultures, without any airs of superiority. In addition to the aftermath of war, the book also discusses some grim practices that are a part of the Kurdish culture even today, such as female cutting and honour killing. Your heart goes out towards characters like Ara, Bezma and Seema.
The book also offers insight on what its like to be an expat teacher. I particularly enjoyed Theresa’s interactions with her students — the children’s innocence, hesitation and their growing trust in their new teacher never failed to make me smile.
The Kurdish Bike is thought-provoking and beautifully laced with heart-warming moments, humour and sensitivity. Certain gestures of generosity by the locals towards the narrator reaffirm the reader’s belief that there’s still plenty of kindness out there in the world.
The book is written with a finesse not usually associated with a debut novelist. It is an easy read, and yet powerful enough for the reader to vividly picture the narrative in his or her head.
And while the book is "loosely based" on the author's own experiences, there's an intimacy felt in the narration, which makes the reader wonder just how much of it really happened...
Overall, the Kurdish Bike is a wonderful read, and one definitely worth recommending.
Sections of this book were good, but there were so many things that were absolutely stupid. Her former husband treated his first wife horribly in their divorce, but she's surprised when he does the same thing to her. After the divorce she keeps her accounts in the same bank that she had when she was married, and then is surprised when the bank takes her money to pay her former husband's debts. Her Kurdish friend is noticeably gaining weight in the stomach and breasts before the wedding, so she must be overeating. The former teacher who lived in her current apartment walks in one night using the key that he kept, and then does it again later with absolutely no mention of changing the locks. He stores a large crate of what is probably weapons in her apartment and she lets them stay there so that he doesn't get into trouble. After everything that happens she gets so depressed that she ... takes drugs. Please! Please! Never let any of my grandchildren or absolutely anybody end up with an idiot like this as a teacher!
An unusual story set in Northern Iraq where divorced teacher, Theresa Turner takes on a stint of teaching in a ultra conservative school, the International Academy of Kurdistan, for the upper echelon in the far reaches of Kurdistan in 2010. Somewhere between a novel and a memoir, I was fascinated by Theresa's purchase of a bike and steps towards exploring the culture she was working within. Her developing relationships with the women of the village is a jewel. Her entree into their hopes and dreams, their disappointments and the rules they live by is eye opening. Her brief moments of journeying with these women is wonderful. What's not so precious is the showing up of the teacher she's replaced with a somewhat sinister aura. That played into sinister shadows of disgruntled converts, something I didn't like and didn't think was necessary. And why didn't Theresa just toss the guy's mysterious package he'd left in her apartment out? Then there's the educational and employment practices of the school and the treatment of the teachers who become somewhat trapped in the system. But returning to the women. By sharing their joys and problems, Theresa becomes a conduit for the reader into a world we know nothing of. I become unsure as to whether it's rewarding or condescending. I want it to be the former. The education practices of the school, the teaching conditions and the traps for unwary players are less likable. Certainly there's a note of beware what you get yourself into for all those thinking about going to more conservative countries for employment. Theresa's first impressions of the educational compound do not bode well. "My new home is more like a military barracks, a bastion of something as yet unclear." That clarity comes with hooks not before discernable. Despite this I keep coming back to the romantic idea of the immense privilege that is Theresa's when she takes chances and is accepted by the women into their homes and culture, all on the wing and promise of a bike! However whether Theresa returns that respect is sometimes moot. I'm still conflicted.
This was a fascinating read for me and one that I could very much relate to, as an overseas educator. Based on Lightbourne's own experiences of teaching in a school in Iraq, I thoroughly enjoyed her depictions of the students, administrators of the school, and the personalities of her fellow teachers. Her story about befriending an Iraqi family, what I believe was the fictional part of the book, was woven in nicely giving the book another dimension, while portraying what it is like to be a female Muslim in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In The Kurdish Bike, the author gives readers a genuine and touching look into a unique and interesting culture, and I absorbed every page. It is informational, historical, humorous, and lighthearted, despite some very weighty issues, like female cutting and honor killings. This is a book that will resonate with expat educators who are or would like to teach in the Middle East, and those readers who look for unique travel stories.
I’m half-Kurdish, so I appreciated this investigation into Kurdish culture and circumstance. I especially enjoyed the juxtapostion of western-thinking against Kurdish values and ideals, specifically in regards to feminism. It was done respectfully - contrasts in ideologies were highlighted with neither championed as “superior” over the other. The conversation between Theresa and Houda on FGM contextualizes this; Theresa can not reconcile the act, and Houda patiently explains to her it’s rationale, mitigating misunderstanding between the two women despite leaving Theresa unconvinced of its necessity and Houda supportive of its continuation. The writing could have beeen more compelling, but the content was very engaging.
The Kurdish Bike was an enthralling, lyrical novel that shared a perspective rarely portrayed in modern literature. The writing absorbed me. Not only did I imagine myself as the American protagonist, but I entered the minds and hearts of the Kurdish women whom the protagonist befriends. Now when I read the news about Iraq and Syria and the Kurds, I see more than a barrage of foreign sounding names and places and numbers. I see people. Thank you, Alesa, for this gift.
Kurdish Bike - wonderful novella about teaching middle school students in Iraq amidst poverty and unfamiliar customs and oddball ex-pat teacher/colleagues. I liked the narrator's voice and I liked learning about this small neighborhood so very distant from the ones I'm familiar with. It's a good read.
Wonderful book! The story follows Miss Turner as she learns to navigate the impossible rules of the Academy and learn about the life of Kurds. This book shows how language is a barrier that can be broken down. I really enjoyed the story and the inner dialogue of the protagonist.
This book could have been and should have been good because of the setting alone - Kurdish Iraq in 2010. Narrated by an expat teacher in a school near an Iraqi Kurdish village, the opportunity to learn something about the people who lived and worked in the region was promising. To my frustration however, the writing was poor (I rolled my eyes regularly at the many ridiculous metaphors/similes), the main character annoying, and although it is purportedly based on a true story, many of the characters and situations strained credulity. As a result, I don’t trust any insights I might have otherwise gleaned from reading it. 1 1/2 stars rounded up only because reading it induced me to research the Kurdish culture and experience.
Teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan. I really enjoyed this audio version of The Kurdish Bike, a novel based on the author's experiences as an expat teacher in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The main character, Theresa, is an older, mature teacher, who has been through a messy divorce and decides to up-sticks to somewhere completely new to her. To have an adventure and escape from old memories. The job in Northern Iraq looks like the perfect opportunity. Once in Kurdistan, she goes against protocol and buys a bike, then uses it to go into the village and meet some of the locals. She is adopted into a Kurdish family and we enjoy all their trials and tribulations alongside Theresa.
For me this worked extremely well as a way of introducing various issues, such as female circumcision, the rights of women and the recent history of the area.
The school was an eye-opener, I suspect there is a similar school near me, where all children are on the same page of the same book on any given day, irrespective of their level of ability or even whether they have had a teacher for the last term.
The book was narrated by the author and she did a great job - except there are a few places where she stumbles, which is something that I never hear with professional narrators. On the plus side, she does the 'asides' perfectly and I suspect these might have annoyed me in the written version as I'm not a fan of aside comments. Hopefully she will correct these issues in the near future.
I am genuinely hoping that Theresa will go back to the village for another year of teaching - at the end of the novel she was offered an opportunity...will she take it??
This book started out like a memoir but become more novel-like as it developed. Then I read the afterword and discovered it was a memoir-turned-into-a-novel... It is about an American woman teaching at a Kurdish school in Iraq. She makes friends in the village and becomes privy to a resisted romance and its various happy and unhappy results. She meets a woman who personally performs female genital mutilation, teaches a little girl who fears her own cutting, and tries to pit American reasoning against the age-old Kurdish acceptance of this horrifying practice. I enjoyed the cultural information, but an accumulation of dramatic events toward the end made me like the book less. I think I would have liked it better as a memoir.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
What a great read, and a fantastic adventure! It’s a 4.5 for sure. The teacher in me is totally enchanted by the idea of packing up my skills and setting out for horizons unknown. What a wonderful challenge to teach and, just as important, to learn from people in faraway places. Soaking in and sharing in the cultures of distant lands.... Then reality hits. The rose-coloured glasses come off and romantic notions are replaced by conflicting values, political unrest, economic uncertainty and social turmoil. This is a novel based on the author’s memoirs of her time teaching abroad. I’m hooked - and I want more!
My book club has both men and women in it, with people living in several different countries. We all raved about this book. We kept wondering how much of it is true -- because practically everything seems true. In parts it was funny. In other parts it was unbearably sad. It's super easy to read, but also has a lot of classy literary touches that makes me think it's going to become a best seller. I want to read more from this amazing author!
I really enjoyed this, and found the "factual" depiction of life in a Kurd village very enlightening. This is a story set up for an epilogue, and I hope so. I enjoyed the cast of characters, and how each of them came to be at "The Fortress;" and one learns that no matter where you go, there you are....baggage and all.
The Kurdish Bike shares the experiences of one down-on-her luck American teacher, seeking to assuage her personal dilemmas through teaching English to nationals in post war torn Kurdistan.
It relates a plethora of (possibly too many?) cultural and personal clashes, ultimately posing the question of why private citizens would volunteer to spend their time and effort where initial aspirations and hope of making a difference are so often slashed by reality - the harshness of the environment, the relatively poor financial rewards and the size of the overall task.
The book is part diary part travel log, with frequent references to a blog. I can’t help but think the impact could be improved by telling her story through her blogs.
PS the back cover comparison to The Kite Runner is no more than a blatant free ride to capture more readers.
Readers rated this book 3.95 of 962 readers. I concur. I recommend this book although the author notes, at the end, that the book is mostly based on her experience, but not entirely, hence the "fiction" category. Now I wonder, what was true and what not or exaggerated. Guess I should have paid more attention to that before I drove in. Oh well, still really enjoyed.
I loved this book. Books having to do with the Middle East always interest me. This is a region that the author says is “older than the flood.” It is a land that has been ruled at one time or another by the Assyrians, the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Islamic Arabs, Mongols, and Ottomans. I was really enthralled with this part of the book. The protagonist Theresa is an American teacher working in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unlike the other expat teachers assigned to the school, Theresa yearns to get out and see the landscape and meet the people. Her purchase of a bicycle gives her the freedom to explore. She meets a Kurdish family that becomes her “village family.”
I also enjoyed the portions of the book that addresses some of the differences between the Arab and Kurdish cultures. The story addresses some traditions that have been banned in most of the world. However, some the rural tribal groups still follow their traditional teachings.
I felt like I had met the characters through Ms. Lightbourne’s thorough character development. Most of the story is based on the author’s actual experiences in the region. I can envision Theresa riding along on her bike; Ara and Theresa dancing and laughing; Theresa’s frustration with the love-smitten Bezma. I wanted to remain right there among these people with such open hearts. They knew how to appreciate the small things in life.
I read The Kurdish Bike to determine if it would be a good book for a Kurdish book club that I have recently started. After finishing the book, I am not sure. The book is really more about the American teachers at a school in Iraqi Kurdistan and one teacher's relationship with the Kurds from the local village. While it is a good book, it seemed to be a cross between A History of Tractors in Ukrainian and Daughters of Smoke and Fire. I think the righting style is what reminded me of A History of Tractors in Ukrainian. The narrative reminded me of Daughters of Smoke and Fire. There is a lot of pain in both books and it is almost over the top. I found myself wondering if anyone really lives thru that much drama in such a short period of time. Then, I reminded myself that the book is about Kurds and the drama/pain are realistic within that community.
I liked The Kurdish Bike. It is well written, but you can tell it was written by an English teacher. It is an enjoyable read and easy to follow. I would like to say that it inspired me to move to a foreign country and teach English, but I think it actually had the opposite effect. The situation described at the school where Teresa works is what happens when corporations take over educating children. The children become secondary and the attitude of the teachers at "the Fortress" are exactly what I would expect from American teachers. The story of the teachers is very entertaining, and the cocoon where they live inside "the Fortress" is a stark contract to the life of the local Kurds There are a lot of good things that you will take from The Kurdish Bike, and that makes it a book worth reading.
Not only do I rank this novel among the top 10 of all I’ve read, I just was gifted at my book club with an in-person slide show presentation by the author on “The Real Story,” complete with maps, an outline of the history of the area, photos of the characters (all names changed) she depicted so vividly, both in the private school she taught at in Kurdish Iraq in 2010, and the extended family she befriends and visited weekly in the novel and twice since. She even brought a Friday (Kurdish Sunday) costume similar to one she had stitched for her in the book and demonstrated how women dress and cover their heads in scarves!.
This book is an eye-opening exploration of current and ancient Muslim culture delivered in a page-turner story with honesty and heart. Lightbourne’s own independent thinking and voice comes across clearly between the lines of dialogue as asides when biting her tongue not to offend and introduce more enlightened attitudes towards women. One theme that shocked and saddened me was the acceptance of the practice of clitoradectomy still practiced today even after a government ban in 2011. I was particularly moved by the protagonist’s spiritual search for meaning, for god in the ancient ruins of civilization. It is at once a love story and a history lesson written with intelligence, insight, sincerity and compassion. Get it!
I was really impressed with the Kurdish Bike. It is a good read, well written, paced, and draws you into the awesome story of a woman teacher from the Northwest struggling with culture, sticky teaching challenges, and the realities of the Kurdish people. At the midway point in the book, I couldn’t put it down, and stayed up late reading, which I rarely do.
The book provides a glimpse into the human impacts of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror on the Kurdish people and the author carefully describes a Muslim world with some archaic traditions and practices that are occasionally unfathomable to our views of human and women’s rights.
The Kurdish bike continues to haunt me with the excruciating struggle of the main character to be empathetic to the culture and friends and yet promoting more egalitarian change. The bicycle itself is almost its own character as it carries the teacher to a different world and world view.
This is particularly an important book today to relate to the people’s real world struggles in Kurdistan and within our own striving for a more humane world.