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Write On Ottawa: The on-going struggle of being human

By John Olsthoorn on December 8, 2014

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Three cardamom pods bob in my glass of green tea. I ask Ottawa author Laurie Fraser what the Canadian Kurdish community’s reaction has been to her novel The Word Not Spoken. This love story of sorts is loosely based on Fraser’s own experiences backpacking in Turkey in the mid-1990s where she met and married a Kurdish man, the character in the novel named Ahmet.

Laurie Fraser.

Laurie Fraser.

Simply put, the novel describes their adventures and misadventures together. It doing so, Fraser weaves a delicate and complex tale in a physical, emotional and political environment rife with conflict, with happiness and with sorrow.

Sitting across the table from me at Ariana’s, Fraser says that members of the Kurdish community here in Canada have told her reading the book takes them home for a visit. And one Kurd pointed out, “Some of the things you wrote about are good and some are bad but all of it is true.”

A central theme in the book is just that, “truth”. In a discussion between the main character, Leigh, and Ahmet, Ahmet says:

“Facts are not important. Truth is important.” Leigh responds by saying “They’re the same thing.” And Ahmet replies with “Truth is the real things.”

The novel is about real things, real struggles. And “the truth” surrounds those things: Leigh’s struggle to fit in and to not fit in – keeping her Canadian-ness while adopting Turkish/Kurdish ways, or at least an understanding of them; the struggle the Kurdish people still face today; and the struggle of genders.

“This was exactly why Ahmet got so angry the time she slammed the door after him. He wasn’t used to women showing negative emotions; he didn’t know how to handle it. Ahmet wasn’t used to opposition in the house either. These women did not argue. No wonder her questions ate his brain.

She sighed and looked up at the ceiling. God, even the women oppressed each other.”

LaurieFraserBut it is more than that and not that at the same time. It depends on which lens you use to look at things, what perspective you take. They are human issues people experience everywhere, the difference perhaps is a question of degree.

The struggle women face, be they in the West (read the context around recent high profile “alleged” sexual abuse cases), elsewhere in the developed and developing parts of the world (even using those terms is loaded), are in one way not entirely different from those the women in the novel face. It is about the struggle to put food on the table, clothes on your back, basic human struggles, with dignity and respect, with love and with hate.

The novel is not without some special moments. One particularly poignant passage had me reading over and over before continuing:

“Darkness brings down masks everywhere, and the women were feeling loose. They allowed their scarves to fall back, and the wind played with freed hair. They smoked. The husband remained at the water tap and harassed the children.

One woman went down the rickety rust slide on a dare. Shrieking from the top, she slid slowly, her clothes billowing out behind her. A second woman bounded up the shaky steps of the slide and followed her. Leigh watched the silliness with a smile. It was a rare and beautiful sight to see these women carefree. Their hands weren’t working at all, not even on crochet.”

On her website, Fraser has posted excerpts from the book and has a slideshow of photos, from her time in Turkey, showing places mentioned in the book. The images add a special context to the reading of the novel, although having the photos in the book itself would have been neat.

Some books you can barely finish. Some you read and are satisfied, or not. Then there are those few books you read and want to read again, maybe not right away, but you know you will. Fraser’s is one of those books I know I will read again.

The Word Not Spoken will make a neat holiday gift. The book is available as an e-book and as a softcover. Several local independent bookstores carry it.

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