I don’t know why, but today something nudged me to write a few words about a book I have just finished reading. The first time I have had anything noteworthy to say about a work of fiction since August 2019.
I also have a couple of reviews I wrote in August, that I hadn’t posted yet, part of Women in Translation month that I will share belatedly. All coming soon…
It was the debut novel of Iranian author Shokoofeh Azar, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. It won’t be for everyone, as it’s written in a lyrical magical realist style, narrated by the spirit of a thirteen year old girl whose family flees Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.
Europa Editions, one of my favourite publishers, describes it in this way:
From the pen of one of Iran’s rising literary stars, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is a story about the unbreakable connection between the living and the dead, and about the way a nation’s shared trauma shapes its national and personal narratives.
It speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty, and of our human need to make sense of the world through the ritual of storytelling itself.
That power of imagination and the use of storytelling to express something in another form, whether its verbal, written or visual, to make sense of how someone views the world around them was something very close to my heart, almost overwhelming, as I too struggle to make sense of it, yet appreciate the gift.
I haven’t published anything here nor felt like reading or even thinking about storytelling, because in mid August my 17-year-old daughter Allia Jen passed away suddenly, without warning. And as you might imagine, something like that, changes something in us.
Though she was very young, she had already lived an extraordinary life, with both significant challenges and immense joys. And though it is little recompense, we have a bulging suitcase of her drawings and artwork, which she worked on and created prolifically – literally – as if there were no tomorrow. Though she didn’t quite make it to her 18th birthday and the independence she was so looking forward to, I am somehow comforted by the knowledge that in the belief system of her paternal culture, she is considered a Bird of Paradise, granted direct passage into Paradise.
I can’t write about reading without first acknowledging this personal loss, as something new begins to blossom and I begin writing again. I am working on a new project I hope to finish this year and I have the intention to visit here from time to time, sharing what I’m reading, and if not here, at the very least on Goodreads.
I Am Dust
In the first of so many I still owe thank you’s to, I would like to say a heart-felt public thank you to a woman who makes magic with words, author Louise Beech, whom I first connected with while spending 10 days in Timone hospital with Allia as she recovered from a successful but distressing operation to correct a curvature of the spine.
I was reading Louise’s incredible, unforgettable debut novel How To Be Brave inspired by her journey with her daughter and a Type 1 diabetic diagnosis (something we shared as mothers). We have stayed in touch ever since and she has written many more excellent, unputdownable novels.
Her latest novel, which I urge you all to read and share, is out now as an e-book but due for printed publication on 16 April 2020. Set in a haunted theatre ‘I Am Dust begins with an amazing poem written by Louise’s daughter Katy and the following generous, kind and much appreciated dedication:
This is dedicated to the people
who pick up the glitter.
And to a girl who was glitter: Allia
Jen Yousef, or simply Jen.
I’ll now have to wait until after
the dust settles
to finally meet you.
I leave you with a few of my favourite pictures Allia drew, all of which are semi-self portraits and encapsulate something of her essence. She is in a good place now and has reversed our roles, I feel her presence around me constantly and will always be inspired by what she taught me in her short life.
I guess she’s telling me to get on with some of the things I’ve been neglecting, just as she would have done, by awakening the inspiration to want to share again.
Thank you for your kind thoughts.