Amity provides a window to the wreckage caused by wars—the destruction and displacement that leave pain and life-long psychological disorders, here specifically within the contexts of Yugoslavia’s dissolution and Iran’s revolution.
Payvand, an Iranian refugee and activist, still plagued with nightmares, meets a Ragusa, a Yugoslavian refugee whose pockets are loaded with stones as she prepares to walk into the water and end her life, a life that has become intolerable since the loss of those most dear to her.
Payvand listens to Ragusa’s story and Ragusa promises to postpone her suicide at least until she hears Payvand’s story in turn. In a novel that strives to raise awareness about the extent to which elites manipulate nations into wars, with total disregard for the lives of millions like Payvand and Ragusa, it is the warmth of personal relationships and friendships forged that are key to healing.
This book had been catching my attention at the downtown library for a couple of weeks. Honestly, the book attracted me because of the cover. It’s a very beautiful cover, with a perfect green and orange colour scheme that I adore. Everything about the cover from the author’s name to the title to the design very much made an impression on me as to what kind of book it would be. It sat very prettily on the last row of a book display on the fourth floor, begging for me to read it. I would see it out of the corner of my eye as I made my way to the fiction section and think to myself, “But I already have so many books I want to take out!” I somehow eventually convinced myself that adding one more book to my check out pile wouldn’t do any harm. There was no way that I was going to risk the book being rotated out of display and never finding it again.
It turns out, my gut feeling was right and I loved the book. While I didn’t exactly go through this book like wild fire, I did find that I would regularly find myself thinking about the book throughout the day and wanting to read more. Only a couple of books have ever made me react that way.
Pevjak has a very distinctive voice that almost seems to find itself in all of her characters. For me, this ultimately is a drawback but recently I realized how this is a very good thing as well. There is an added sense of unity among all the characters, not only experiences but how they are written. However, like I said, this mostly turned me off. It read like each character bled into each other. Their voices were not distinct from each other although the stories they told were all very unique to their own lives. Maybe it’s Pevjak’s fluency in English that it comes across like this and due to the fact almost all of Pevjak’s characters are not Native English speakers that some of the distinct voices seem to be lost.
While it this did bother me throughout the novel, the importance here is in the stories. They are too real for them to not be rooted in some sort of form of truth. Pevjak is too genuine for me to doubt her and it is not unlikely for people to go through the events in this book. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who would not be moved even a little by the experiences the characters had to endure.
Payvand guided me so gently through this book that it made it more bearable. By the end of the book, she seemed like we were lifelong friends as well. I could only wish to be as well accomplished as Payvand and as well attuned to the global climate and to those around her. She was a major plus to this novel and if she was written any differently, I don’t think I could have stomached it.
My only other drawback I found was the preachy monologues that sprung up time to time. Payvand’s outbursts were passionate and so well spoken that it seemed like Pevjak drew them from her own essays or speeches. It was extremely out of place for me each time one of these came up. I just didn’t feel like the messages in this book should have been spelled out so clearly when the reader is fully capable of coming up with the same conclusions, even if they don’t agree with them or not. It almost felt insulting and a little bit patronizing. But who am I to say this when obviously we are still not getting the message?
For funsies, here’s my unedited initial review I posted on Goodreads:
I liked this book a lot for a multitude of reasons that most reviewers have already covered. Now allow me to be to be little picky. My main complaint is that a lot of the characters didn’t seem to have distinct voices. Maybe it’s due to the fact that Pevjack is not a native English speaker and neither is most of her characters. But this did bother me throughout the book. Another complaint that I have, which is a horrible complaint, is that at times I felt it got too preachy. I know, I know. How dare i, a privileged Westerners dare complain about being exposed too much to the atrocities going on the world? But I read for a story and not to be lectured. I could have drawn to those conclusions on my own without the monologues. I admit, the end made sense for it to close off with the different speakers but it only annoyed me when it was sprinkled throughout the book.
That being said, I found this book to be riveting. I thought about it when I was not reading it and wanted it in my hands until I finished it. The lives of these characters seemed too real to me and my heart wrenched for them. There is a lesson to be learned but I fear it will fall on deaf ears. For example, I will probably not do anything of note to aid people who are suffering. How many of us after reading this book will actually go and do something about it? Prove me wrong.
Reading back on this, I still feel the last couple of sentences are relevant. It is so easy to read about experiences like these and do nothing. Action is lacking. Pevjack is obviously a passionate activist and devotes much of her life to it. What have I done? What could I do? Would my be efforts be futile? It’s so easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of “I’m just one person against powerful governments and corporations.” What could I ever do? It seems so hopeless. Prove me wrong.
So, would I recommend this book? I give a bold yes no matter who you are! I think it is worth reading.