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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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2020, 320 pages
    May 2021, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Naomi Benaron
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There are currently 6 reader reviews for Daughters of Smoke and Fire
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Juli B.

Powerful, emotional story of survival.
One of my greatest challenges writing this review is how to convey the gratitude I feel for the skillful bravery author Ava Homa must have felt bringing the brutally tragic, yet hopeful story of the Saman family to print. The ability to dissect and explain the history of the Kurdish people through decades of violence and oppression was a tremendously complex task. Here we also get a fictional, yet realistic portrayal of physical, emotional, cultural, and spiritual abuse at the hands of people who deem themselves superior to an entire race simply because of geographic boundaries. The entire book should be flagged with trigger warnings for readers who cannot tolerate despondency, war tactics, suicidal thoughts and actions, and/or explicit descriptions of physical violence.
However, readers should also be prepared to fully connect with characters who show a tremendous will to survive finding ways to create lives filled with integrity, cultural pride and a belief in attaining happiness without denying heritage.

A razor-sharp voice
With a razor-sharp voice and incisiveness, Ava Homa tells the story of Leila, a Kurdish girl who grows up in and then flees Mariwan, a small, impoverished place in Kurdish Iran. Her world is constrained to gravitate around her family and especially around her younger brother, Chia, whose dreams blend with hers. He is supposed to bring justice to people after attending law school while she is supposed to make movies and attend university. These childhood dreams transform into the nightmare of a youth of oppression in prison and one of fighting to liberate and preserve the memory of the brother brutally extricated from Leila’s life. While trying to keep alive the legacy of her activist brother, Leila finds herself fighting for her own life and identity.
The filial understanding and love she cannot find in her family, marred as her father is by his brutal encounters with police and with a narcissistic mother who looks for solace in work and a risky relationship outside her marriage, Leila finds in another family, also terribly bruised by injustice, without a father and with a rebellious mother tending for her one rebellious daughter, Shiler, whom Leila befriends. It is not an ordinary friendship though, as Shiler’s pathway diverges away with the Peshmerga women fighters in the Zagros mountains.
What makes an impact while reading Leila’s story is certainly her agonizing, mortally wounded yet shrill and unsubdued voice, while struggling to find a way out of the vicious cycle of injustice, threats, restrictions and laws applied to Kurds and to Kurdish women in particular. Leila’s truth is so shocking it is often hard to believe and gulp down, but Homa tells her story with relentless anguish, focused on the cinematic intensity of the characters’ experiences, intent on stirring the same gut-wrenching feelings that her character has. It sends shockwaves to learn about the plight of women, treated as second-class citizens and human beings at various levels: women always sitting at the back of the bus, having access to local libraries only three days a week, not wearing make-up or not allowed to bike, etc., etc. so that they often choose as the ultimate option self-immolation.
This on top of learning about other atrocities presented by Ava Homa as factual. Daughters of Smoke and Fire is a book which deserves to be read and talked about by anybody who believes in and wants to raise their voice in defense of human rights first and foremost.

Leila and her brother Chia are on their own from young age despite living with their parents. The preoccupations of daily oppression of society force each family member to preserve their own survival his family. As a child Leila learns the rules of female behavior inside and outside the home in very overt ways. There is nothing subtle about life in Iran. Only in their thoughts can Leila and Chia explore possibilities beyond the example of their parents' struggles. Engaging as child pushing boundaries, Leila struggles to have a voice of her own as she dons the veil. Strong female friendship and role models figure prominently in Leila's flight from childhood to womanhood.
Her father Alan's activism has made the family a target in the past and caused him endless suffering. Will his children escape his fate?
Ava Homa presents a story of survival that goes beyond the barest semblance of a life to living your truth. In a repressive society that extends privilege to the male majority and genocide of the Kurdish minority, this is no small challenge and can cost you your life. Their family story represents the history of the Kurdish people throughout the region and across national borders; within country each they are a stateless people.
Rebecca G

An Essential book to read
Ava Homa’s book is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. Probably most people don’t know the history of the Kurds. I didn’t realize that their country was divided after World War I between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The result of this was Kurdish men became second class citizens, oppressed, suppressed, often imprisoned and murdered at the whim of sadistic leaders. Women were considered subhuman, brutalized, often abandoned, often raped but always under extreme restrictions. Ms. Homa describes many of these brutalities and they are difficult to read. The story revolves around the family Samas, particularly their daughter, Leila. Her father is a broken man after being unjustly imprisoned, her mother lives in misery and commits acts that are unspeakable in their culture and her brother, Chia becomes more and more determined to do what he can to save his people. No matter what she does, Leila is unable to break free of her severe restrictions and spends her life despondent to the point of suicide. But when her brother is labeled a martyr she spreads his words and places her own life in danger. This is an incredible book about despair, brutality, hopelessness but it becomes a book of redemption and hopefulness.

Details that make your heart ache
I do not know a lot about the setting of this book, but that did not stop me from learning. Prepare to be transported and to learn from the protagonist. There are moments of sheer beauty and moments of true despair. The book captures each with a level of detail that brings each to life.
Power Reviewer
Lee Mitchell

Unknown Kurds
A moving and heart breaking tribute to all the Kurds still living, or trying to live, a normal life in Iran. Leila Saman was born Kurdish but she always felt guilty and insecure about her background. She knew she could speak Kurdish at home but but it was forbidden to speak it in public or in school. Leila was never told of the fifty years of Kurdish history that Iran has endeavored, almost successfully, to eradicate. Her father bore the scars of his prison detention for his leftist activities and no one spoke of the murders by the state of her six uncles.

Uncertain of herself and who she is, she moves to Tehran with her brother Chia who is enrolled in college. Chia encourages her to read his notebooks on the Iranian regime and its affects on the Kurds and just as she is starting to understand, Chia disappears. We can feel her pain as no official will admit to knowing where Chia is or if he has been arrested. Although she pleads, begs and bribes no one will even admit he is missing. With no information where does Leila go from here?
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