A Long Absence, I Am Dust by Louise Beech

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.

Allia Jen

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.

Claire

Click here to purchase a copy of Louise Beech’s I Am Dust via Book Depository

44 thoughts on “A Long Absence, I Am Dust by Louise Beech

    • Thank you for your kind words, how extraordinary too that as I read your message a notification popped up to tell me that Feb 24 was the 9th anniversary of my starting this blog. I’ve had so many funny synchronicities happen that make me laugh. 🙂
      Long may they continue.

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  1. Hi Claire – my heart hugs you from afar. I am sorry to learn about the loss of your daughter, Allia Jen. I wish you healing support whenever you need it, for how ever long you need it. I heard someone speak about how grief takes our voice, so I’m glad that you felt compelled to compose and publish this post. I’ve missed reading your book reviews.😘

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    • Thank you Leslie, you don’t know what a relief I felt in reading your words about grief taking one’s voice, it may seem obvious but I couldn’t articulate what it was that me withdraw from reading any kind of fiction or writing anything about reading, except occasionally in a letter, after reading something that nourished me spiritually. Tentative steps, I’m not sure what’s ahead, I’ll just be doing what feels ok.

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  2. First let me say how sorry I am to hear of what has to be a devastating loss. I’ve always held a special appreciation for those moments when Allia was integrated into your posts. The only irony here is that I’ve been wondering about you, missing the ways in which your posts really do enrich me. This is one of those times when I understand what it means to be speechless. When I read ‘I Am Dust,’ — which I’m so compelled to read now, I will be thinking of you.

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    • Thank you Deborah and for being a reader of this blog long enough to remember when she would sometimes create a little image to go with my reading. She drew so many stories, mot of them unfinished, as I too have a tendency to do with stories I’ve written. I’m so appreciative to have them all now though, possessed of an imagination that often surpassed what I am capable of understanding, but a treasure trove to have. Thank you for reading I Am Dust, I will be reading it soon too.

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  3. I have missed your posts and wondered why… I can’t begin to imagine how terrible this has been for you. (And here I am, a writer.) I’m so sorry, but what wonderful art to be left with and treasured.

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    • Thank you for your kind words Claire and appreciation of Allia’s art, it is incredible the volume of work she left us and eventually I hope to do something special to celebrate it. I look forward to catching up with reading, more discerning than ever I find.

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  4. It is heartbreaking to read this, Claire. My heart goes out to you. May Allia’s spirit guide you through this difficult path. Thank you for sharing the beautiful artworks. How talented she was! It is deeply inspiring.

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    • Thank you Julia, Allia does indeed feel very present, she had an inner strength that she seems to have passed on to all of us, and a sense of humour. Thank you for your appreciation of her art, she spent a lot of time expressing herself that way, for which I am so glad.

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  5. Dear Claire. So now it is not just your thoughts about the books you love and the choice of those books that inspire me, it is also your strength and grace. I will definitely be reading these books, I absolutely love the dedication — what a beautiful way to be remembered and honoured and i hope you will share more of your daughter’s work. Blessings.

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  6. Dearest Claire – I was so pleased to see a notification of a new post from you in my inbox…and heartbroken to read your words about the loss of your beloved daughter. Thank you for sharing your story and her art, and passing the inspiration you’re feeling from her onto us. So much love to you.

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  7. I was so pleased to see you back, and then I read what had kept you silent for so long. I cannot begin to imagine such a loss. We are people of words, and there are none. I wish you strength and time and healing.

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    • Thank you, I understand, I don’t know sometimes how the words come, it’s best not to think too much and just write through it. I’ve had to write and speak in ways I never imagined would be required of me, but in there somewhere is also an extraordinary gift from elsewhere.

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  8. Hi Claire, I feel joy to see your writings, you express yourself beautifully through words. I will definitely look for Louise Beeche’s new novel.
    As for your project this year, I am looking forward to read it.
    Much love your way dear friend xo

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Dear Claire, there is no pain greater than the loss of a child and my heart goes out to you. Thank you for having the courage to write about this. May you find strength, support and comfort.

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  10. Claire I’m very sorry to hear your news.I was so happy to see your post after so long ,ive been missing you and then to read the tragic news of your daughter.I’m not sure what to say.I’m sending you a huge hug and all my love.Kia kaha. My thoughts are with you.

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  11. I had noticed your silence and wondered about it. I’m so very sorry about the loss of your daughter, which must be the source of such great pain to you. I sense you are already finding some days when you are able to envisage getting on with your new normal, but I guess some days will be easier than others. Very best wishes, and supportive thoughts.

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  12. Beautifully written tribute to your beautiful and talented daughter from her beautiful & talented mother…you are and inspiration, Claire.

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  13. So sorry for your loss, Claire. I cried after reading your post and after reading Louise Beech’s dedication to Allia. Glad to see you back. Sending you lots of love and hugs ❤️

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  14. I am so very sorry to learn of your daughter’s passing. I can’t begin to imagine how this must feel. I was so pleased to see your post until I read its contents, as you have been missed in the blogosphere. I wish you strength of spirit and beautiful memories, Claire.

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  15. Oh Claire, I am so very, very sorry to hear about your devastating loss. I started reading your post and enjoying that you were back and what you had to say about Shokoofeh’s book, (and I’d just sent a chirpy tweet to you when I saw your Goodreads review on Twitter), and then, oh, then… I had to read about Allia Jen twice because I could not absorb what you had written.
    Please accept my condolences and tell others who loved her that there is a community of readers who will never forget her because you have shared who she was as a person here with us.
    I love that first picture, showing her striding confidently into the future as she sheds her schooldays. It is poignant now, no wonder your heart is breaking. Have courage, and cherish those memories always. Lisa x

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  16. PS If I may make a suggestion: in these days of social media, people less often send condolence cards. I have had beautiful messages of condolence on my blog after the deaths of my parents, and I cherish them. To keep them, I took screenshots from my blog, and made a simple collage of them to print out on photo paper. They are now part of my scrapbooks about my parents, but of course they could also be kept in a photo album. (I also took screenshots from Facebook, but I didn’t think of this at the time that my mother died in 2015, and those messages of condolence seem to be lost forever whereas I do have the ones from 2017 when my father died.)

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  17. Oh my – I am so sorry. May your dear daughter Allia Jen rest with the blessed.

    It is extremely difficult to write “the next blog post” after such a life-shattering event; you are courageous. I wish you peace and strength.

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  18. Claire, I am so sorry for your loss. Like others, I had missed your posts and was delighted when your post appeared in my inbox, little realising the reason for your absence. I send my deepest sympathy as you navigate these difficult waters and wish you peace and strength in equal measure. Take good care of yourself

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  19. Dear Claire, you have been in my thoughts often since the tragedy of sweet Allia’s passing. The legacy of her artwork is truly a gift. Grief is such a solitary journey in so many ways. I feel joy that you are finding your voice once again. Sending love.

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  20. Pingback: Top Five Spiritual Well-Being Reads #StayAtHome – Word by Word

  21. I can’t find the words to express my sadness over your enormous loss. I impressed by your bravery in carrying on, returning to blogging, and sharing with us about what happened. Thanks you. In the words of old Quakers, “I hold you in the Light.”

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  22. Grieving is such a personal thing, I appreciate your letting us know what happened and sharing some of your daughter’s work. I’m very sorry for your loss.

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    • Thank you kindly for your words, they all mean so much, people’s thoughts and kindnesses. I can’t help but think at the moment when we are all confined to stay home how much gratitude I have that we were able to be with family and support and comfort each other and create an unforgettable ceremony and time together that in many ways was quite magical, right now that is being denied people, the shock of losing someone and not being able to gather as they should. It seems strange, but this period has made me feel much appreciation and gratitude for what we had, despite it being an experience I would not wish on anyone.

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  23. Dear lovely friend Claire,
    Your grief is something tangible that I can feel from a distance. Your strength comes from deep within your warm and caring heat. It is with hope that I read your words that will continue to help you to embrace life again with the company of your handsome boy and the spirit of Allia.
    I send you the fondest hugs and love.
    Sheighle xxx

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