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Spanning generations and geography, Choman Hardi’s recently released novel Whispering Walls (Afsana Press, 2023) is gripping from start to finish. Every page invited me in and compelled me forward. Exploring a Kurdish family’s complex legacy from Kurdistan to diaspora in the UK, the interwoven storylines had me turning pages with great anticipation.
Stylistically, this book is a treat. The writing is beautiful—to be expected from a writer who has published many accomplished books of poetry. There is lovely language and sharp imagery throughout the novel. The details are crisp and captivating. From clear layouts of setting to sensory descriptions of food, the reader is submerged within the world that Hardi expertly builds. Just sitting on my couch, reading Hardi’s prose, I was taken on a transnational journey from Slemani in Kurdistan to bustling around town in London and the outer suburbs.
The character development in Whispering Walls is phenomenal. The characters are distinct, believable, relatable, and perfectly flawed.
Characters like Lana and Tara, years apart and living in different countries, offer a depiction of the various pressures Kurdish women face. Given the novel’s movement between the past and present moment, we see the implications of Kurdish female expectations both in Kurdistan and in diaspora. We watch them both in different times and contexts navigating romantic relationships drenched with familial, societal, and cultural pressures weighing on their every move, every choice, every kiss. Hardi does not shy away from laying bare the tension these women navigate.
Another protagonist, Hiwa (Lana and Tara’s brother), is grappling with webs of generational trauma, his own trauma, and a slate of troubling memories. When unboxing old pictures and letters forces him to confront a painful past, grief becomes all-consuming. We sit with a question that Hiwa’s brother Gara writes in a letter: “What makes the past so dangerous?” To which Hiwa contemplates, “Is it the past that makes the present unbearable?” We feel compassion for Hiwa. Seeking comfort and familiarity, Hiwa is faced with a dilemma that pulls him farther from his wife and daughter. The reader watches this unfold with bated breath, rooting for Hiwa, but not certain which path is going to offer him the freedom that he seeks from his pain and grief.
With the impending invasion of Iraq in 2003, the siblings watch from afar as war threatens their homeland, and Hardi unpacks that torn helplessness with great skill. Their concerns become our concerns. Their joys become our joys. Their exhaustion becomes our exhaustion.
Ultimately, this novel offers gorgeous and nuanced explorations of grief, loss (of various types), distance, diaspora, war, generational inheritance, gender expectations, romance, sex, realistic familial complexities, the human condition, and Kurdish existence broadly. Whispering Walls is for anyone who wants to learn more about varied Kurdish experiences and, really, for anyone who enjoys reading a book that you just can’t put down.
Choman Hardi is the seventh and youngest child of Kurdish poet Ahmed Hardi. After several stages of forced displacement, she was granted refugee status in England in 1993. She studied at Oxford, London, and Kent universities and her post-doctoral research saw her return to Kurdistan to document the plight of women survivors of Anfal.