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Daughters of Smoke and Fire

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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.
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.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published May 12, 2020

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About the author

Ava Homa

3 books186 followers
Ava Homa is a writer, journalist, and activist. DAUGHTERS OF SMOKE AND FIRE (May 2020) is her debut novel published by the HarperCollins in Canada & ABRAMS in the US. Her collection of short stories Echoes from the Other Land (Mawenzi, Toronto, 2010) was nominated for the 2011 Frank O’Conner Short Story Prize and secured a place among the ten winners of the 2011 CBC Reader’s Choice Contest, running concurrently with the Giller Prize. Homa is also the inaugural recipient of the PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-In-Exile Scholarship. 

In different settings across North America and Europe, Homa has delivered speeches on writing as resistance, human rights, gender equality, Kurdish affairs, media literacy, and other topics.

She has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Windsor in Canada, another in English Language and Literature from Tehran, Iran, and a diploma in editing from Toronto. A Writer-in-Residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa House, BC (2013), George Brown College, Toronto (2012), R. D. Lawrence Cultural Centre, Minden Hills (2011), and the Open Book Toronto and Ontario (2011), Homa has taught Creative Writing workshops to writers from diverse age ranges and backgrounds, judged writing contests, served the editorial board of the Write Magazine and the National Council of The Writers' Union of Canada. 

For more information visit www.AvaHoma.com

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 283 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 121 books155k followers
December 16, 2022
I love when fiction exposes me to cultures I know little about. In the week of Mahsa “Jina” Amini’s death I wanted to know more about Kurdish, culture and Iran and the lives of women there. Daughters of Smoke and Fire did not disappoint. This novel is beautifully written, intelligent, and powerful. It offers a glimpse into the lives of young Kurdish women, and the challenges they face while trying to become themselves and thrive in a world that wants to keep them caged and small. I was impressed by the unique structure of this novel, and the time the author took to tell the story in the way she wanted. I was moved and at times horrified and at times, gripping the edge of my seat, wondering what fate would befall Leila and Chia and Shiler. This is a necessary read, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next. I also had the opportunity to be in conversation with Ava Homa, and she is one of the most intelligent writers I’ve ever spoken with.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,054 reviews30k followers
August 31, 2020
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Five star book coming up! I buddy read this one with my dear friend, @bibliobeth, and it's the perfect book to discuss with friends. I’m going to jump right in with this one because I have limited characters and lots of gushing to do. Daughters of Smoke and Fire is the first book published in English by a female Kurdish author. Let that sink in for a minute.

Not only that but it’s one of the most well-written, well-everything books I’ve read this year. Set in Iran, with mostly Leila narrating, the reader observes her family and daily life, as she grows up from a young girl into an adult with a haunting oppression bearing down on her, her family, and her community at every turn. Years later, Leila’s brother, Chia, becomes an activist, which is quite dangerous, and then he disappears. Leila learns he’s been imprisoned and tortured. She wants nothing more than to save his life.

Daughters of Smoke and Fire is one of the most powerful, absorbing stories I’ve read. There are times this book read like a thriller, it is so well-paced and suspenseful with some of the events that happened to Leila and her family. But it’s so much more than the thriller with its story of Kurdish history, culture, family, and the immeasurable infinite loss of those life affirming things at the same time. I adored the strong characters, Leila, especially. I don’t want to spoil anything, but after this heartfelt, long journey with Leila, the ending of this book is completely satisfying. I recommend this book to everyone, and I hope you’ll read it.

I received a gifted copy, and after reading and loving the book, I bought the Canada edition for my shelf because I love both covers. ❤️

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Maria.
471 reviews309 followers
March 30, 2021
Thank you Abrams Books for a gifted copy in exchange for an honest review!

Unforgettable is one way to put this novel. WOW. I learned so much about the devastating history of the Kurdish people. The stereotyping, the loss of their own history, language and customs was just absolutely devastating to read about. It's all vital to our cast of characters, who are bravely fighting for equality.

Topics like this aren't really my thing (ummm I skipped history class in high school all the time). But I didn't find all the historical facts to be dense or anything like that, you know? It flowed really well, and although the timeline wasn't exactly clear at first, it was easy to follow along with the progression of Iran from around the 70s or so to present day. In truth though, the discrimination and erasing of the Kurdish people, and the effects it has from waaaaay before the 70s, is what we see in this book.

We see Leila through all aspects of her life as a baby, girl, and then woman, navigating through the tough life she was given. She has hopes and dreams of her own, but her shot at achieving them is slim to none. She is a caregiver, teacher to her little brother. And that almost kills her. She was born to do more, and her brother gives her the chance to do that, but at a terrible cost.

You will fall in love with this story, these characters, and the writing. I literally just can't describe to you what I think, you're going to have to read this one for yourself to see. This is a strong book, and a must read. Eye opening, heart breaking. But there's always that little taste of happiness stringing you along.
Profile Image for Trinity Bingaman.
1 review11 followers
January 16, 2020
I got the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Daughters of Smoke and Fire. I read this book faster than I have ready any book in a long time. Every time I picked up this book, I was in the story. Every emotion felt, flower smelled, and hug shared, I was experiencing. Every sorrow, heart break, and every crime against humanity, I felt. This book did not make want to start a revolution, it made me want to throw myself into the revolutions happening all around me. I am so happy to be a woman, and this book just fills me with happiness knowing that women like the main characters of this book exist in the world, fighting for what is just and right. This book is my new favorite and will be forever on my shelf. I highly recommend this book, and I cannot wait until it is considered a classic and is being taught in schools.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,380 reviews518 followers
December 29, 2020
An engrossing, powerful novel about a young woman and her family's oppressive experience living as Kurds in Iran. Homa artfully wove Leila's story along with the history of the Kurds and Kurdistan. I knew very little about the Kurds and am grateful for the education this novel gave me.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,027 followers
July 7, 2020
Leila and Chia are siblings in Kurdistan, technically in the Kurdish part of Iran, when their father is named an enemy of the state and not allowed to work. Their family struggles for money while both children also try to get an education, but the odds are not in Leila's favor (and she wants to be a filmmaker in a region that polices everything including books and films.) Then her brother disappears....

In my year of reading more in the Middle East, this novel came at a perfect time. The author is also from Kurdistan/Iran but had greater access to education through scholarship programs overseas (the novel was written in English.) Homa shows how governments (plural) intentionally keep the Kurdish people down through keeping their regions from developing, limiting access to education, and requiring children not to speak their childhood language.

I had a copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss; it came out May 12, 2020.
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,624 followers
May 11, 2020
I feel honoured to have read the first book to be published in English by a female Kurdish writer; it is a powerful fact meets fiction narrative showing the everyday lives of Kurds, their struggles and their continued persecution. This is a politicised coming-of-age tale destined to shatter your heart into pieces yet it is written in such a sublime fashion by such a devastatingly deft hand that you simply can't look away. Set in modern-day Iran, we are introduced to Leila, an ambitious young Kurdish girl and her family living under oppressive Iranian rule. She has long understood that her family are not like others; they are persecuted for simply existing and are forced, in order to keep their culture alive, to speak their language despite receiving punishment for doing so. The anger, fear, and sense of betrayal are palpable throughout. When her brother Chia is arrested for publishing stories online regarding the plight of the Kurds this only proves Leila correct in that they must continue their resistance. He begins to take part in anti-government demonstrations and is imprisoned for doing so. Leila goes to great lengths to find out where he is. She will not surrender. She will not stop. This is one fight that needs to be fought.

The message that Kurds have effectively been rendered stateless is a prominent feature here as it affects the ability to feel as though you belong and leads to a search for identity. This is an important, timely and topical book and although explored in a fictional context the issues here are very real and happening to this day. This is not a tale I will forget easily. It's moving and haunting in equal measure and written in such a subtle and intelligent way that you cannot fail to be captivated by it. The cast of characters is developed beautifully and this allows you to really come to care about the family and their collective trauma at the hands of the seemingly endless revolving door of oppressors. It's a while since a book managed to have me teary-eyed but it's impossible not to feel strong emotions whilst reading this unromanticised account of pain and trauma passed on through generations. This is a story that needs to be told and this magnificent debut excels at telling it in a gripping fashion. You can tell every little aspect has been thought through carefully in the ten years it took to write this novel. Highly recommended. Many thanks to ABRAMS for an ARC.
Profile Image for DeAnn.
1,269 reviews
August 24, 2021
4 tough to read stars

This one tore at my heart! I can't think of another book that featured Kurdish characters so this one was an eye-opener for me.

A young woman, Leila, is featured, this one is a bit of a coming-of-age story, but more about the horrible conditions that Kurdish people face in Iran. Protestors can be jailed and beaten, even executed without evidence or a trial. Leila has struggled for years to pass an exam to qualify for college. Her brother is accepted, but he's agitating for change behind the scenes. One day he disappears and Leila starts her own quest to find him and advocate for justice.

One of Leila's friends joins the revolutionary army fighting for more rights, not an easy path either. As Leila continues her quest, she puts herself in danger too.

This one is mostly narrated by Leila, but we do get an occasional chapter from other characters, including her father that provide insight.

This book is very well written and shares the plight of Kurdish people, forced to speak another language and hide their culture, and women are forced to cover themselves and face huge obstacles. I would love to read more books by Kurdish writers in the future.

Thank you to BookBrowse for the copy of this one to read. I'm enjoying the discussion!
January 27, 2020
I received an advanced copy of Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa. Just finished reading it Saturday morning. Powerful. I am still crying at the ending and can't properly articulate. The author writes about the struggles of the Kurdish people of Iran The world needs to hear this powerful story. The narrative is inter woven with the natural beauty of the authors homeland; a place I will probably never be able to visit in my lifetime.
Profile Image for Sue.
101 reviews1 follower
March 9, 2020
This is one of those books that, like last year’s A Woman is No Man, I will be thinking about for a long time. What it means to be a woman varies greatly between different societies and religions. The ethnicity one is born into can make life difficult based on prejudice. Daughters of Smoke and Fire addresses both with such grace.

Leila is a young Kurdish woman living in Iran. She dreams of going to university and making films about the oppressed life of her people one day. Her younger brother, Chia, becomes involved with standing up for his people in a different way. He becomes a social and political activist, standing up for the Kurds in a country that won’t even allow them to speak their own language.
One day, Chia disappears in Tehran. Looking for him makes Leila visible and puts her in danger as well.

This book is haunting. The narrative is mainly told from Leila’s point of view and shares her story as a minority young woman. It’s poetic in the description of the country, it’s sights and smells. This powerful story took the author ten years to write and i felt every bit of that—the sorrow and joy were palpable. I was crying when I finished the book, but the authors note at the end took me beyond.
This is a must read.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Ako.
11 reviews1 follower
December 29, 2019
The writer carries you through the story with herself in such way that you feel you are in the vein of her blood stream, feeling her pain, her fear, her confusion, her rage and anger. It is more than a story. It’s a life experience. Brilliant storytelling. Enchanting prose
--
Profile Image for Barred Owl Books.
395 reviews5 followers
April 21, 2020
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.
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.
193 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2020
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. It is not the type of book I normally read on my own but more of a book club type read meaning it would lead to a great book discussion. This is a book of a really heavy topic but presented in a very readable format. It is informative. I knew little about the plight of the Kurds. It is unfathomable what evil exists. We hear stories on the news about civil rights violations in the US which are mild compared to what this book covers. I always say, "You know what you know." I can't imagine living in a place like the author presents. Life always in fear until you are so numb you just don't care anymore. I am not informed enough to give this book the review it deserves. I encourage you to read it for yourself.
Profile Image for Abby Rubin.
454 reviews3 followers
April 19, 2020
This was a difficult but important story to read. Leila just wanted to make films. Her trials and tribulations of growing up female in a patriarchal society are compounded by the fact that she is a Kurd in Iran and her family is broken. It is not clear whether her parents love each other, her father was never the same after he got out of prison, and her brother is on a similar path as he joins the fight as an activist to fight Iran's oppressive regime. Homa's moving and powerful book takes you through Leila's life as she decides when to take a stand and what is worth putting yourself and your loved ones at risk. A great read for anyone fighting for justice or who has felt like they've never belonged.
Profile Image for Ehsaneh Sadr.
Author 1 book24 followers
May 18, 2020
Amazing book! I read it in almost one sitting. As an Iranian-American novelist and (one-time) human rights activist, I was ashamed to realize how little I knew about the experiences of the oppressed but proud Kurdish-Iranian community. What a privilege and honor to learn so much through the medium of an incredible story told with gorgeous prose and heartbreaking characters. The first part of the book was especially resonant as a poignant representation of how outward injustice so often manifests as inner depression and anger that can tear families apart. And I’ll always be grateful for the introduction to Kurdish poet Sherko Bekas.

Ava Homa is an important new voice telling a story we all need to learn. Bravo!
April 5, 2020
I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of this novel. Ava Homa draws you into the story until every choice protagonist Leila makes becomes your choice and deeply resonates. You feel every success and failure in her journey. This story inspired me to become more aware about Kurds in Iran and human rights issues. Homa has succeeded in both creating a story that anyone can read and spotlighting Kurds' ongoing struggles. She has truly woven a masterpiece, and I highly recommend this book to all.
Profile Image for Stacey Bene.
141 reviews7 followers
April 21, 2020
Thank you to The Overlook Press for the ARC of Daughters of Smoke and Fire. I adored this book. It’s reminiscent of some of Khalid Hosseini’s work. This book told the story of a Kurdish woman in Iran over a few decades. It highlighted the injustices against the Kurdish population. I fell in love with the characters, especially, Leila. I could feel her grief and frustration through the pages. Excellent writing.
April 7, 2020
Daughters of Smoke and Fire has everything you could possibly want in a book: love, hate, despair, triumph, the intrigue of one extraordinary individual's story, and the power that story has to represent millions. With beautifully crafted prose, Ava Homa paints a picture of a revolution that is both national and intensely personal, and the careful development of Leila's character ensures that you will feel everything as deeply as she does. I learned so much by reading this novel, not only about the Kurdish people and the increasingly relevant situation in Iran, but about the resilience of humanity. It is brutally and devastatingly honest, and yet I walked away from it feeling hopeful and inspired. As far as I'm concerned, this is required reading, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone I can.
Profile Image for Brenna.
101 reviews11 followers
June 12, 2020
This was an exceptional novel.
My father is a Kurdish Iraqi that immigrated to the US in his twenties on refugee status and lost many family members to the Kurdish genocide. The atrocities cited in this book felt all too familiar, based on stories handed down to me by my father from his own experience. However, to have the perspective of a Kurdish woman, in the protagonist of Leila, a whole new empathy emerged for me to understand how excruciatingly difficult it was for a Kurdish women to live among such oppression. Leila narrates early on in the novel that her father taught her “a man’s life is worth twice as much as a woman’s” - even though Kurdish men were treated awfully, what the Kurdish women experienced was on a whole other level - gender created a hierarchy.
Reading this, I think a lot of my father and how he was beaten in school for speaking Kurdish and required to speak Arabic (he went to school in Baghdad and was enrolled not knowing a word of Arabic) and I think of my grandmother, and how strong she was to raise her 11 children, and survive the heartache of losing half of them to unjust murder by the government.
And in Leila, I see a lot of myself. How do you belong to two worlds- a question I commonly ask myself, even though I was born and raised in the US. Leila emigrates to Canada and finds a different set of struggles, she is still an outsider, an “other.” She wants to embrace who she is, but absorb this new world and be a part of it. I loved watching her character expand and grow and loved her conclusion at the end, when she found herself, to say “I am,” rather than just a “woman” or a “Kurd.” She is just herself.
The theme of butterflies was particularly dear to me as well, as my father always loves spotting a butterfly in his garden, and is brightened by the peace and tranquility they signify. In Kurdish culture, seeing a butterfly means the soul of someone you have lost is visiting you.. There is hope in the undercurrents of this work.
So, while this book felt very personal to me, I would still highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn about the Kurdish plight and to understand what these people have experienced for decades.

Some of my favorite quotes from the novel:

When someone asks Leila if she is proud to be a Kurd, she responds “proud is not the right word. I am not proud to be a woman either. Nor to be human. I didn’t work hard to be any of those. But, I am happy to be one. It was awfully tough, and it took a while, a long while, but I learned to appreciate being a human, a woman, and a Kurd.”

“I think we Kurds have a long history of being talked down to. And then came the Islamic state, causing a lot of harm but making the rest of the world reevaluate its attitude toward us, seeing us as it’s shields, if not outright saviors. We no longer feel so neglected. There is respect out there, admiration for the Kurds fearlessness and their gender egalitarian, environmental, democratic values. In the 90s western media portrayed us as victims. Gassed and displaced and now we are presented as champions. From being labeled ‘terrorists’ for resisting the politics of annihilation, we are now the peacekeepers. I look forward to a time when we are not talked down to or talked up to. I want to be talked to.”
2 reviews
December 29, 2019
I read an advanced copy of the book. Reading this book felt like a shocking yet profound conversation where my role was that of a quiet listener who inevitably walked away with a renewed, deep, and profound appreciation for Kurds. Perfect timing. Impeccable writing. Brilliant storytelling, compelling characters.
Profile Image for Neda.
1 review
January 28, 2020
I read an advanced copy of the book. Daughters of Smoke and Fire was a brilliant book that captured my attention and engaged me from the beginning. The main character’s journey touches you in a very unique way. You will find yourself experiencing every feeling that all characters are, all the pain, all the cry and smile. A story that stays in your heart and mind.
Profile Image for Ace.
430 reviews23 followers
September 6, 2022
3.5 rounded down
My second attempt at this book which I have now read through to the end. It fell a bit short.. probably because it is a debut. However, I take my hat off to the author who is bringing the loss of language and identity of millions of Kurds to attention of readers.
Profile Image for Rachel.
560 reviews21 followers
October 23, 2022
“In this country we are subhuman. We’re women, and we’re also Kurdish. I need some dignity, something to hope for.”

This is the first novel published by a female Kurdish writer in English (her third language). Ava Homa was born and raised in Iranian Kurdistan before migrating to Canada. This is an important novel that draws attention to the plight of the Kurds from about the 1970s onwards, and is inspired by the true story of revolutionary and political prisoner Farzad Kamangar. It was the winner of a silver Nautilus Award for fiction 2020 and shortlisted for the William Saroyan award. This is an important read in the wake of current protests about the death in custody of young Kurdish woman Mahsa (Jina) Amini, jailed for not wearing her headscarf correctly. Ava Homa has written articles about Jina’s death and the subsequent protests.

Kurdistan as a geocultural region dates back to ancient times. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire the Allies divided Kurdistan between the countries of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria. Since then the Kurds have faced hardship and persecution, suppression of their language, and being jailed and tortured in great numbers as political prisoners.

This is the story of Leila, growing up in a tense and struggling home after her father is imprisoned then stripped of his right to work, deemed to be a rebel and enemy of the state of Iran. Leila is forced to negotiate the oppression of living as a female and being Kurdish in Iran, the disillusionment of her father and the narcissism of her mother. Every time she sets foot outside there is the risk of being captured by the Iranian Police of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Vice for not wearing her headscarf correctly or being virginity-tested for wearing makeup. As she says, “Women came in only two types: whores or dutiful slaves to their families. Good girls would not go to a park alone. Good girls would be content with having men breathe the fresh air on their behalf, take in all the oxygen one required to keep women at bay.”

As an adult her beloved brother Chia becomes progressively politically active until he disappears, imprisoned as a political prisoner. Her friend Shiler joins the Peshmerga guerillas (who played a key role during the Iraq War in the mission to capture Saddam Hussein, and in 2004 captured a key al-Qaeda figure leading to the killing of Osama bin Laden). Leila fights to try and save her brother. Eventually she escapes to Canada where she experiences a different form of racism and suspicion for being “other.”

“I think we Kurds have a long history of being talked down to. And then came the Islamic state, causing a lot of harm but making the rest of the world reevaluate its attitude toward us, seeing us as it’s shields, if not outright saviors. We no longer feel so neglected. There is respect out there, admiration for the Kurds fearlessness and their gender egalitarian, environmental, democratic values. In the 90s western media portrayed us as victims. Gassed and displaced and now we are presented as champions. From being labeled ‘terrorists’ for resisting the politics of annihilation, we are now the peacekeepers. I look forward to a time when we are not talked down to or talked up to. I want to be talked to.”

This is a powerful book that highlights the story of a poorly understood people, from around the 1970s to contemporary times, and pays homage to the 40 million stateless Kurds. The title reflects the horrifying statistic that Kurdish women have the highest rates in the world of suicide by self-immolation. The authors writes elsewhere about the contrasting images of Kurdish women: on one hand as leaders and rulers during the Ottoman Empire, fearless warriors and the unveiled women of the Middle East wearing colourful clothing. By contrast these same women are also the victims of great violence, honour killings, FGM and sadly self-immolation. Ava Homa works as an activist and campaigns for change within Iran, supporting suicide prevention programs. I found this a passionate, absorbing book. I even enjoyed the romantic side-story which had all of my favourite tropes, such as friends-to-lovers and marriage of convenience. I would highly recommend this book. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Mary Walters.
Author 9 books20 followers
September 27, 2020
Daughters of Smoke and Fire is a truly outstanding novel. That it is also a first novel makes the achievement even more impressive, in part because the underlying focus of the work is the inhumane treatment to which two groups of people – women and Kurds – are subjected in Iran. It is often difficult for writers of novels with plots that are precipitated by political injustices to avoid the temptation to lecture, to moralize, to explain, and to condemn, but Ava Homa has masterfully avoided such pitfalls. She has done so in part by creating such a likeable, reluctantly gutsy, thoroughly female narrator that we are rooting for her from the moment we first meet her. We want Leila to survive and even triumph over obstacles that are almost inconceivable to Western readers – and almost insurmountable for anyone.

Leila Saman is female in a country where women are chattels – they must comply with the Islamic dress code, their movements are restricted, and when they do go out, they are shadowed by a police force charged with “Enjoining Good and Forbidding Vice” (with all of the merciless intent that designation implies). But Leila is also a Kurd – an ethnic group that has been without a homeland for a century. In Iran, Kurds are detested by the ruling powers but also by other Iranians. They are forbidden to use their language in public (“Speak Persian!!”), are thrown in jail and kept there on a whim and are executed without justifiable cause. When Leila’s beloved younger brother Chia, an intellectual who dares to write revolutionary articles, is incarcerated and condemned to death, Leila – a woman without resources – is thrust into the impossible situation of needing to save him while also preventing herself from ending up in jail.

Leila’s parents are too depressed, self-focused and traumatized (and too biased against women) to be able to offer her emotional support, and as she matures, any illusions she might have had about the goodness of the world are gradually stripped away. Nonetheless, sustained by the support and affection of a girlfriend, Shilah, and Shilah’s mother Joanna, she emerges from childhood in this dark and dangerous country as a principled, kind, loving and wonderfully flawed young woman. (The relationship between Leila and Joanna is one I particularly enjoyed.)

Homa is a talented writer. Not only does she bring Leila to life for us, she is able to present the context in which Leila must survive and fight with a matter-of-fact attention to detail that speaks to her familiarity with Leila’s situation. (Homa herself grew up in Iran and is now exiled in Canada.) Leila’s very familiarity with such necessary protocols as remembering to cover herself from head to toe before she leaves the house speaks volumes to us about the day-to-day reality of surviving as a woman, much less a Kurdish feminist, under the rule of radical Islamists – and the matter-of-factness wrings our hearts.

“The storefronts of the posh clothing retailers lining the block glittered in the afternoon sun. In the window displays, the mannequins’ nipples were cut off. Scarves were draped over their misshapen heads – also cut off right where the brain should be – so the mannequins’ faces were only visible from the nose down. Plastic legs were sloppily concealed by newspapers and Scotch tape.”

The normalcy of everything that should not be normal is revealed during scenes of relative calm (when Leila drinks wine in public for the first time, in a “country that would lash you for it,” she reflects that someone must have paid the Police of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Vice to look the other way), as well as at more desperate junctures. At one point after Chia is incarcerated, Shiler (who was born in prison and is about to head off to join the Peshmerga guerrillas) offers Leila what comfort she can regarding Chia’s plight. "He'll meet some kick-ass intellectuals [in jail]. There’s a camaraderie among political prisoners of similar ideologies that you can’t find outside. He’ll have lots of time to read and write. Also, it’s not like the outside world is heaven. Chia knows this country is one big prison.”

It is a truly remarkable novel that offers us an absorbing plot while also illuminating a world that most of us are fortunate to be able only to imagine. Perhaps that imagining will help us turn our attention toward the plight of Kurds in Middle Eastern countries – for (as we also learn in Shadows) this is a place where the focus of the west can actually save lives. In the meantime, wonderful Leila and her relationships with Chia, Shiler, Joanna and the families of other prisoners in the jail – not to mention her brother’s Iranian friend Karo – make this a love story as well as a political drama. Book clubs throughout the western world are going to love it (Oprah, are you listening?) because of the power of the story and the range of important issues it demands that we address.
Profile Image for Zagros Rêbaz.
4 reviews
October 1, 2020
Daughters of Smoke and Fire
A Mirror to Our Suffering

“Sleep, Chia, sleep. Not because it's time to sleep, but because being awake is a sin here, and the punishment is beyond what human bones can stand. I should remember that words are sinful in this forgotten part of the world. Thinking is a “crime,” writing is “enmity against God,” and talking is “terrorism. The newspapers are blank, the walls are spies, television is the greatest liar, and speaking out is off limits.”

I take literature too seriously and feel like I need a revolutionary experience out of every single novel I read. My mind values literature as a sacred invention of imaginative works distinguished by caring intentions of their authors and the perceived visual and imaginary aesthetic perfection of their execution. Daughters of Smoke and Fire was proof I would be so wrong to believe that I've come across enough excellent pieces of literature that nothing else, in life or on papers, emerges to surprise me anymore.

“God! Hello? Mr. God!” I jerked up and opened the window. “Wake up!” The sun’s face grinned, suspended in the dawn sky. Are you even alive, Mr. God?… Are you? Or did they place a noose around your neck and strangle the life out of you too?”

This novel is a potpourri of writing techniques, incredible vivid storytelling, and unfamiliar characters, unless you’re Kurdish. Thirty nine chapters filled with images of innocence, myth of growing up, parents, friendships, love, culture, norms, faith, oppression, racism, hatred, wars, gender inequality, blood, stupid colonized borders, prison, exile, fear, failure, smile and tears, dreams, followed by an epilogue that is purely a manifesto for the Kurdish Dream. Surprisingly though, this tale lacks presence of Kurdish traitors, who are in every corner of Kurdistan and beyond, who we owe our bloody past, our miserable life, and our dark future.

“We do not accept humiliation… International interventions will soon put a stop to your brutality!”
“Yeah,” the soldier scoffed, and then laughed humorously. “Wait for the world to come and save you. Loser!” Our eyes met. We both paused. His lips curled into a mocking smile before his face turned grave.”

Perhaps the best part about this book is how much it caters to the negligence of the privileged race, mothers that raise those brutal prison guards, families that give birth to armies of unconditionally loyal-to-power henchmen, societies that provide benefits to members within specialized fields of interest, mosques that choose silence only when it comes to the tyranny of the rulers.
Daughters of Smoke and Fire disappoints the naive readers who expect to feel better about themselves for feeling sympathy with the larger mid-east conflict. This is not a book for those who like happy tales of happy people in happy situations.

“I can't fucking stand the degradation anymore. If you’re a leftist, they kill you; if you’r 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… In this country we are subhuman. We’re women, and we’re also Kurdish… We must be realistic. I would much rather get killed on a battlefield than slowly decompose in this morass.”

Almost every chapter of this book points out the underlying source of the injustice that has shattered the dreams of many generations of reaching peace and tranquility. It's purely honest in telling the readers why oppression is so popular amongst the superior, and why the mountains are the only and last refuge for the Kurds. The point where it could turn inutile sympathy into indignation or realization.

“I write so my brother and I can understand how much our destiny was shaped before eggs and sperm united to make us… How the prison guards who tortured Baba torment me too? What it means to belong to a stateless people so crushed under tyranny that self-sabotage has become routine? How can I ever be free if I don’t fight my faceless person guards?”

To me, to us, to the Kurds whose lives were a mixture of agony and disappointment, reading this novel feels like holding up a mirror to our faces, yet to those who feel threatened by the Kurdish dream, which is simply dream of retrieving dignity, this novel hits their imagination with senses of fear, shame, reproach, pathos and regret followed by breezes of awakening, daring, valor, and virtue. They still have to borrow some courage to accept the fact they have lived so far to become so ignorant, so miserable and indifferent to what happened - happens - around them.

“Tell us. How do you feel about being a Kurd? Are you proud?
Am I proud?.. Proud is not the right word… I am not proud to be a woman either. Nor to be a human. I didn’t work hard to be any of those...”

Ava Homa indeed has worked so hard to be one, and is definitely a voice I'll be following.
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,071 reviews77 followers
May 8, 2020
I’ll be honest, Daughters of Smoke and Fire was not initially on my radar since I don’t typically read a lot of political fiction or literary fiction for that matter. That being said, I was drawn to the synopsis because I am not well versed in Middle Eastern culture, and I do try to branch out of my comfort zone for reading in order to constantly challenge myself and beliefs.

The story follows the life of Leila, a young Kurdish woman growing up in the turmoil of Iran. Leila dreams of going to University to become a filmmaker in order to document the struggles and oppression that her people deal with on a daily basis. But as a woman, society has different expectations and rules for her to follow.

Leila’s brother Chia, who is haunted by the torture his father endured in prison, decides to become a social and political activist in order to fight the oppression of their people. However, the more Chia gets involved, the more dangerous things become until one day he disappears from the streets of Tehran. Now Leila is determined to find her brother, but vocal women in society places a target on her back. Can Leila save them both?

Y’all, this book was so damn painful to read because of the oppression, the injustice, and the hypocrisy. Leila’s anger and rage became my own. Leila is fierce and refuses to succumb to the injustices that have been placed before her. Even though standing up for what she believes in has the real consequence of death, she doesn’t let that stop her.

The author crafted a beautifully written story that reminds us how the bravery of one individual has the ability to change the mindset of many. This story is full of tragedy, despair, love, and hope. Don’t go into this book thinking it will be an easy read because it won’t be. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to make you upset. But this story is so important and reminds us that we still have a long way to go to get to a world of equality and peace.

Thank you to ABRAMS for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
1 review
February 21, 2020
This novel had me captivated from beginning to end, I didn't want to put it down for a moment. This is the kind of story telling that will stick with you for years to come.
Profile Image for Kasha.
10 reviews
June 21, 2020
Beautiful ,haunting,full of sadness and full of hope.So current.We live blissfully unaware of suffering and pain.We dont think people are still today denied theire language and culture.Beautiful writing ,one of those books which stays with you.
Profile Image for Lainey Cameron.
Author 1 book175 followers
June 5, 2020
This book hits on some weighty topics and is not a light read, but that’s exactly why it’s essential, and 100% worth your time. Many of US in the West have read headlines about the Kurds, of terrifying events in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq (the countries that made up Kurdistan). We’ve heard of life in Iran under Khomeini, of the morality police of “Enjoining Good and Forbidding Vice” who targeted women who behaved out of line with society’s expectations of staying demure.

All of that can seem overwhelming and hard to relate to, until we are gifted with a book like Daughters of Smoke and Fire, that lets us inside the head of Leila, a Kurdish child, then woman, who struggles to find her own identity, hope and purpose, in a world where women are de-valued, free speech is scarce, and decades of brutality and repression sink into the core of your being before you are even of adult age.

Leila is a reluctant activist, questioning her very purpose in the world and losing hope in the future, until her brother Chia is arrested and imprisoned without cause, and she finds courage, takes the mantle and fights for his freedom.

I noticed another review call this book haunting, and I agree in that it will stay with me long after finishing it. But I also want to add a thought: although the world can feel heavy right now, this is the moment to read this book.

If you’re looking around us in 2020 and trying to find true empathy and understanding for what it’s like to live in in a world where, because of your race, you are lesser valued and how that is woven into the very core of how society operates includes police practices (sound familiar in US right now?), then this book will help. No, it’s not about black Americans, it’s about being Kurdish, but every sickening step toward clamping back on protests, tear gas, arresting those who speak up, felt eerily familiar.

Ultimately, thought, to me, this book is also about hope. About how and why Kurdish women lose it, and how piece by piece, slowly, it can be reclaimed. The final chapters also helped me remember to see behind the language barriers, and remember that, when dealing with others, we never know the true story when we look into the eyes of a refugee or immigrant, and whether we're at work, or at simply at a café buying a cup of coffee, simple acts of kindness and caring do matter.

I could not more whole-heartedly recommend this book.
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