#SurvivalStories2021 Adult Award-Winning Books Genre International Joy and Peace in Literature Lifespan of a Reader Literary Fiction Middle Eastern Literature Reading Themes

Islamic Revolution, Magical Realism, and Stories Told By A Ghost Girl

... in Shokoofeh Azar's "The Enlightenment Of The Greengage Tree."


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community. 

The Enlightenment Of The Greengage Tree [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Shokoofeh Azar (translated from the Persian)
Published by Europa Editions (2020)
ISBN: 1609455657 (ISBN13: 9781609455651) Literary Awards: Adelaide Festival Award Nominee for Fiction (2020), The Stella Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2018), International Booker Prize Nominee for Shortlist (2020). Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Narrated in the voice of a dead 13 year old girl named Bahar who was burned to death by religious extremists, this novel promises to be anything but ordinary. There is the mother who walked away, barefoot, from her grieving family, in a hypnotic-like trance as if being led by the Pied Piper of Razan. The eldest activist son who was tortured and eventually died from state-sanctioned violence, the middle sister who gave birth to fishes and corals, and the absent father who simply checked out of reality altogether, waiting for remnants of his old life to come together in some mosaic-like pattern of sorts that he can figure out and make sense of.

There were so many aspects of the novel that resonated with me deeply, particularly the hopeless struggle against an authoritarian regime and the frustration with a beloved country that seemed intent on self-annihilation. See quote below:

It made me realize that while the historical specifics may differ: this book references Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution – my own current frame of reality is Duterte and his bogus war on drugs that supposedly legitimized deaths of over 30 thousand people now (and counting) in the Philippines, while the US contends with the most non-peaceful presidential transition ever in American history – the fundamental tenets of fascism and state oppression remain the same the world over.

I was especially taken by the author’s narration of Khomeini’s death – how liberating and cathartic to be able to figuratively fashion a dictator’s death through the magical weaving of words uttered out loud like a labyrinthine incantation of sorts: a most fitting death that is akin to removing bad humors from one’s constitution – expelling bad juju from one’s system through the sorcery of language.

There is anger in this novel – and a wound that can never be healed – except maybe when filled up with greengages or songs of mermaids or ghosts who beat the living shit out of police officers who are torturing their fathers. Yet, reading this novel did not leave me with a bitter aftertaste. In fact, it altered my reality for a moment, giving me permission to dismantle rules of logic, and reclaim a magical version of perceiving the universe. As one of the characters in the story noted:

‘You say that the world has become crazy and ask what can I do for it. My answer is this: all I can do is not get caught up in the madness.’ Uncle Khosrow went on, ‘You can only know swimming by swimming, love by loving and meditation by meditating. There’s no other way. The mind opens outward and meditation inward. That’s the difference between your world and mine.’

This is a novel I will not easily forget. I hope it finds its way into your hands soonest.

#SurvivalStories2021 Update: 14 out of target 100

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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