Excerpt from Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Daughters of Smoke and Fire

A Novel

by Ava Homa

Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa X
Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa
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  • First Published:
    May 2020, 320 pages
    May 2021, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron
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Print Excerpt

Daughters of Smoke and Fire, starting page 48

"How would it happen when you were in prison?" Chia pressed his luck.

"At midnight," he said, "they would call names. We were eighty inmates in one wing— sometimes more, sometimes less. Anyone whose name was called after the sun went down never came back."

I pricked up my ears from my invisible post. Baba's gaze remained on the flowers woven into the rug, his expression neutral, reminiscent. "We would listen for and count the gunshots right before sunrise, and with a fork, we'd engrave the date and the estimated number of people executed on the walls of our cells."

I steadied myself on the doorframe. My brother sat rigidly.

Baba continued stoically. "Every time that loudspeaker crackled, every time a guard turned it on and blew into it, every time someone whose name started with A was called ..." He stopped and glanced at Chia, through Chia, as if Chia weren't there. "The ones who were called had only a moment to give their friends and cellmates any useful belongings they had. A shirt, a pair of shoes, a comb. And they might ask for something to be sent to their parents, wives, or children: their diaries, drawings, handicrafts they had made in prison with inedible dough. Then their friends ..."

Baba squeezed his eyes shut, bit at the corner of his cracked, bloodless lips. "After the men were taken away, their friends would light a candle if they had one, would pass around some dates if they had any, and would shed tears if they still had some left in them. That kind of stuff. They would gather the few possessions they had to give the executed something like a funeral, an acknowledgement of their existence in a place that wished to annihilate us all."

Chia cleared this throat and asked in a gravelly voice, "Was that the worst part? When a friend was taken?"

My father looked away, rubbed his face, and pressed his fingers to his temples as if he were focusing on something. I wanted to run and grab a glass of water for Baba, whose lips had dried up, but I stayed put. "Once a plainclothed man walked in with a flashlight in his hand." He wheezed. Looked the other way. Memories were crowding in.

I held my breath so I wouldn't miss a single word.

"Three guards followed the man, who was clearly an Ettela'at agent."

"The intelligence service," Chia breathed.

Baba continued. "It was past midnight, and the central lights of the prison had all been turned off. We were about twelve cellmates then, Joanna's husband among us. Their daughter was due to be born the day after. We were ordered to stand in a line and face this figure who walked before us, directing his flashlight at us. He pointed his index finger and ordered an unlucky prisoner to step forward from the line. His blinding light then flashed into my face. I shut my eyes and frowned. On a reflex ..." Baba's lip stayed low, slurring his speech.

My heart was beating too loudly, and I worried its pounding would drown out Baba's next words.

"And?" Chia prompted softly.

Baba sighed, the deepest sigh. "Somehow the monster decided to move on to the next person and beckoned him out of the lineup. He didn't bother to call names, check the prisoners' files. He was so damn sure he would get away with it all. He could have ordered the light to be turned on in a snap— nothing would have happened to him even then. But he didn't bother. He took eight men."

Baba's features were tight, his breathing so labored I felt he was reliving the terror.

"Did you ever hear what happened to those eight men? Was Shiler's father one of the eight?"

"He was. They are buried in a La'nat Awa." Baba didn't wait for Chia to ask what La'nat Awa was. "The cursed place. Mass graves where prisoners are taken after execution, or if they die under torture, or if the subjects are just kidnapped or 'disappeared,' or if their families can't afford to pay the bullet fee ... Can you imagine? When they executed someone, they made the families pay for the very bullets that killed them just to get the body back. Kurdistan is full of mass graves, all called La'nat Awa."

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Excerpted from Daughters Of Smoke & Fire by Ava Homa. Copyright © 2020 by Ava Homa. Excerpted by permission of The Overlook Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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