California Days

Hi. How is everyone’s February going? Has your part of the world been freezing? I hope you didn’t lose power too long if you are in Texas — I’m thinking particularly of bloggers Deb and Dorothy. It sounded very rough there … as I’ve been in touch with an old college classmate who lives in Katy, Texas, who’s given me the scoop on the disaster. Meanwhile, I feel quite fortunate here in mild, beautiful Southern California, where I’ve been visiting and helping out with my parents. We’re planning to move them soon to a new place so it’s been hectic. I’ve been M.I.A. off the blog for awhile but sometimes life requires that. It’s just a bit much right now with everything, but I hope to be back soon to all things books and visiting others’ blogs, so please excuse my temporary absence.  

I actually have been reading quite a bit (in the middle of the night, ha), primarily for my side gig with Publishers Weekly. Lately I’m just helping out with PW’s BookLife Prize, which is an annual contest to support independent, self-published authors. My reading category has been memoirs, and there have been some good ones, which has sort of surprised me, a lot is out there from people with a variety of life experiences.

You should think about it, if you’ve written a book and it’s just sitting around on the back burner. Go ahead, dust it off, and turn it in to PW’s BookLife. You might just win some cash for your efforts. And now, in addition to the colorful flowers at left, which I saw on a bike ride, I’ll leave you with a review of what — besides the PW stuff — I’ve finished lately. 

Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son
by Homeira Qaderi / HarperCollins / 224 pages / 2020 

Synopsis: This is the life story / memoir of an Afghan woman who grew up with her family during Afghanistan’s war-torn years of the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, the civil war that followed, and the subsequent rise of the Taliban who captured the city of Herat where her family lived. It follows the tough choices she had to make to survive and find a life out of oppression. 

My Thoughts:  I listened to this memoir as an audiobook on my afternoon walks while I’ve been in California. What was I thinking to start such a grim book? I think it just came in on my library account and I started it one day not knowing much. Whoa … as if I didn’t have enough to think about recently.

The author Homeira tells of the wars she and her family endured, which were terrible and scary enough but then with the rise of the Taliban — whose leaders banned girls’ education, and music, TV, and such — things turned from bad to worse. Somehow Homeira perseveres by secretly teaching girls and boys reading and writing lessons within a mosque tent and she even teaches a couple rogue Taliban who very secretly want to learn too.

Then at age 17 she is forced into an arranged marriage to a local man and is taken to Tehran, Iran, where she’s amazed by seeing women living with more freedom there. She goes on to study at the university, earning degrees (eventually a PhD in Persian Literature), teaching, and having a son, but all that changes when they return to Kabul 15 years later, and her husband shocks her by reverting back to oppressive ways, and announcing he plans to take a second wife. What happens next is a very difficult decision that changes her life forever. 

Oh cripes. Poor Homeira. Luckily she is one courageous Afghan woman who perseveres and today is an author of six books in Afghanistan and Iran and a human rights activist. She seems very impressive — a learned writer and lover of literature and teaching — in 2015 she left Kabul to attend the international writing program at the University of Iowa (!). So despite the book being quite bleak, I think sometimes we have to see and know how women are faring under oppressive regimes. It’s hard to face, but her actions are also inspiring and we can learn from them and better support movements for women elsewhere to gain more rights and freedoms. 

What Homeira describes life being like under the Taliban in her story will disgust and infuriate anyone with an ounce of feeling in their body. I’m now quite worried about the recent news that the U.S. and NATO have plans to pull troops from Afghanistan entirely, and I fear the Taliban will return to recapture areas and inflict once again a perverted version of sharia law on the women there. For the sake of Afghan women, I really hope this does not happen. We need to stay tuned to what’s going on and what the Afghan people, such as Homeira, are saying.

Her vivid, moving true story — that recounts her secret homeschooling of other kids — slightly reminded me of Azar Nazir’s terrific 2003 memoir “Reading Lolita in Tehran” even though it’s about a different country. Though I thought Nazir’s book was a bit more developed and better. It also raises similar themes to the 2007 novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, which was also similarly bleak. All three are strong cups of coffee to take but are also necessary, compelling reads. 

That’s all for now. What about you — have you read any of these and what did you think?  And how is your February going?

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28 Responses to California Days

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    Great to have a post from you, Susan! Yes, that book sounds grueling but important. I had not thought of a withdrawal of troops having such nasty repercussions for women and children there. Good point!
    I have read the other two books you mention and I want to read this one.
    Good luck with everything you are getting done with your parents. Again, you get the good daughter award of the month!
    My son and his family, who live just outside Houston were without power for 2 days but have survived. What a wake up call to the need to plan for the future.

    • Susan says:

      Hey thanks Judy, kind of you to say about daughter of the month award, ha funny. I have had to jump thru many hoops just to be here, but the times are changing with my folks so it’s been very necessary. I will fly back March 5 if all stays on schedule. hmm. I’m glad to hear about your son & his family being all right now. Gosh 2 days is a long time without power & heat. Definitely it’s a wake call. My friend said she had never seen temps so cold there. Yikes.
      Hope you are enjoying your books and will get your 2nd shot soon. The views for me being in Calif. are often restorative.

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    I think that you have been posting more then me. I need to actually get moving on getting some posts up.

    Dancing in the Mosque seems like such an important and worth while book.

    Glad to know that you are doing well.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Brian. I am hanging in there. It seems life gets busy sometimes & we can’t always post as often as we’d like. I’m sure you are busy. I look forward to whenever you post next. Cheers.

  3. It’s been beautiful in So Cal and I’m glad you’ve been here to enjoy it even though packing up your parents home cannot be easy!

    This book is on my TBR list and now, after reading your review, I want to read it even more so thank you.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Helen: Yeah this memoir is a bit intense & dark but probably still good to know about these Afghan women and their struggles.
      SoCal has indeed been beautiful / gorgeous views here of the mountains etc, though it’s been a bit of a stressful time and I haven’t been able to get out & about as much. Hope you are having a good February in S.B.!

  4. Diane says:

    So nice to read a post from you letting us know what you’ve been up to. Glad you can enjoy some nicer weather as well. We’ve had over a foot of snow in the past week and it’s too cold to melt any although we should have a couple 40 degree days next week…a start. Dancing on the Mosque sounds like a moving memoir. I would like try that one. Take care, enjoy the outdoors in between busy times with your parents.

    • Susan says:

      Hey Diane, that’s some serious snow you have there! I hope spring will be on the way soon. Southern California is so easy weather-wise. I don’t even realize this is winter ? The Mosque book is pretty moving & eye-opening. Hope you are enjoying your good start of books you’ve read this year, judging from your blog. take care.

  5. How lovely that you are able to spend time in California with your parents. I know they must be very happy to have you there.

    Thank you for sparing a thought for us here in Texas. It has been a difficult week, but actually, my husband and I had it much easier than many others. Our power was off for ten hours during the coldest part of this event, but we do have a fireplace and a generator (which we never used) so we were not in any danger of being completely without heat. We also had a couple of shorter outages of 2 hours and another of only 3o minutes. The temperature tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70s, more normal for February in Southeast Texas.

    The book by Qaderi sounds like a really difficult but important read. I have read Hosseini’s books and I agree that they are bleak, but also very important for our understanding of Afghan culture

    • Susan says:

      Hi Dorothy, thanks for your Texas update — so glad you & your husband are all right and were able to have backup power & heat. You both are so smart to have a generator. I’m glad you were lucky and had shorter outages. What an Ordeal for south Texas but so glad temps will be back in the 70s. You’ll have to inspect your garden’s damage.
      This time with my parents has been key & it’s been gorgeous here. I will likely write another post after I am back in Canada. Cheers!

  6. In our little corner of the world here in SA, it’s as hot as hell. A few clouds are busy rolling in and I do hope it is a bit of rain.

    Yes, you should take a break every now and then. I’m also just hanging on by a thread lately. School’s been really hectic, but good!

    Dancing in the Mosque sounds really good, will keep an eye out.

    Keep well and take care of yourself!

    • Susan says:

      Hey thanks Mareli, so kind of you. Like you, I’m hanging on by a thread lately but it’s also good to see my folks. It sounds like you are staying on top of school/work despite it being very hectic. And perhaps we should try to send Rain your way. SA does seem like a very hot place! Ouch. Enjoy your week.

  7. I am happy to wake up to pleasantly warm temperatures today after a week of icy cold. Many friends and family struggled through power outages, but we never lost power. I have new empathy for those who live in cold climates.

    It’s wonderful to have prizes for independent, self-published books. I hope you get to read lots of wonderful submissions.

    I’ve just added Dancing in the Mosque to my list of future reads. I hope there is a way to protect women and children in the world.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Deb, so glad you didn’t lose power! How fortunate. Apparently earlier February temps were also very brutal in Canada (where I usually am) but I was very glad to miss them this year. I hope you all warm up in South Texas … and you have a great week. I concur that protection of women& children in such places under repressive regimes is of major concern & our societies should try to do more. I need some happier reading now!

  8. Good to see you when you can get here, Susan. Life is like that sometimes and more than understandable with you helping out your parents.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Bryan, thanks for your words. I appreciate you stopping by and adding something positive — as my parents’ care and upcoming move has not been exactly easy. I hope you are doing well …. and I will stop by your site soon. Enjoy your week.

  9. Iza says:

    Hosseini is already on my TBR, Lolita in Teheran surprisingly wasn’t, so I added it and Dancing in the mosque too. It’s important to read this type of books to be informed and act more. Even if there is so much to do to make our world better that it’s sometimes disheartening, which is why we have to keep doing things, as much as each of us can. I hope everything will be all right with your parents moving soon, enjoy your mild temperatures and I’m sending good vibrations your way 🙂

    • Susan says:

      Thanks so much Iza! Yeah I need good vibes right now … for the folks & the move coming up. I got to get out today so I will go for a bike ride. Beware: you might need to space out reading these Afghan/Iran books as they are pretty dark. Though I think I want to reread the Lolita in Tehran book as it’s been a long while / I think I read it for a book group years ago. After Dancing in the Mosque, I think I could use something lighter now. Enjoy your week!

  10. Les in OR says:

    Good to see your post this weekend! I’m glad you are enjoying your time in SoCal and that the weather is cooperating. Nice that it’s not hot like in the summer month, huh? I’m sure you have a lot on your plate, helping move your folks. Will they stay in their area or is going to be a bigger move? Good luck with all of that!

    • Susan says:

      Hi Lesley, yeah my parents will be staying in Redlands just a few miles from their home of 50 years(!). I hope it will work out. Crossing my fingers. It’s warm here today like 72 degrees. So easy compared to what I’m used to. I hope you both are well. I’ll stop by soon, cheers!

  11. I didn’t that you are a) in So. Cal. and b) writing and reading for Publisher’s Weekly. Both sound so good. My Sunday Salon

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Anne. Yeah I flew down to visit my folks Feb. 1/ I started doing a bit for PW in November last year. It’s been worth doing. I’ll stop by your site soon. thanks. Enjoy your week.

  12. Happy to see a post from you, Susan! Glad you are enjoying sun and warm weather in Ca, but sorry to hear life is stressful at the moment. Thankfully things are stable here and I’ve been able to read more the last couple of months… though this memoir sounds a bit heavier than I’m in the mood for right now. Our nephew bought a house in Austin last year and was without power for 3 days… as of yesterday, they were still without water. Take care!

    • Susan says:

      Wow JoAnn: the amount of people without water in Texas is alarming. I hope he gets his water back soon. What a wake up call for the whole state. I’m glad things are stable where you are. I have a couple more weeks here … then I will be flying back to Canada. I hope it works out here. Time will tell. Enjoy your week.

  13. Heather says:

    Glad you can help out with your parents. And yes to taking the breaks you need! I’m so sporadic in blogging lately too. Take care of yourself.

    That memoir sounds good but tough emotionally. I’m going to put it on the list but I’ll have to wait for a time I can handle it. Thanks for letting me know about it.

    Love your pic! Southern Cal looks gorgeous. I hope you can get your parents settled into their new place soon. I hope you have a great week.

    • Susan says:

      Thanks Heather. I appreciate your message. Yeah SoCal has been gorgeous though I haven’t had a lot of free time. We hope to get my folks settled in March. Enjoy your reads this month! I hope to stop by your site soon.

  14. Ti says:

    That really is some heavy reading for a nice California walk.

    I am sending you all the support vibes I can to get you through the move. Moving, anytime, is never fun. It’s always more work than you think but I will say that usually the end result is good. I hope this is the case for your parents. So nice that you can do it in mild California. Those poor Texans. My ex boss is still without water and only has power for about 30 min a day right now. She is in Houston.

    • Susan says:

      Hey Ti, thanks I got your note! Yeah I think I need a happy book now for sure. My mind has been so scattered lately with my parents’ upcoming move — that my reading concentration hasn’t been great. But SoCal has been so nice … and the walks help me a lot! I hope you are doing well this week. My parents get their 2nd vaccine shot March 3rd … though my Dad had a bad reaction to the first shot so a bit worried for that. Cross your fingers.

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