Thursday, February 14, 2013

Flying Carpets by Hedy Habra

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 203 pages
Publisher: March Street Press, 2012
Price: $15.00
ISBN-10: 1596611685
ISBN-13: 978-1596611689

I grew up reading Latvian folk tales, and as an adult, I have often experienced that a-ha moment of realization that much of my value system, my work ethic, my life outlook, has been developed by those enchanting tales of my childhood. Oh, how I loved to read as a little girl! And still do. So when I opened up Flying Carpets, and immersed in the world on the page before me, I felt myself as if traveling back in time to that sweet world of long ago.

Initially, I couldn't quite understand why I was so drawn to these tales of exotic lands, magic and fantasy, but then I realized that childhood connection. That's it! We all love going back, back to our past of innocence and wonder—and Hedy Habra masterfully waves her writing wand and brings us there with this collection.

These are stories influenced by the author's Middle Eastern background in Egypt and Lebanon. From there fly and float these magic carpets, as we read about temples and mountain villages, gliding boats and fragrant kitchens, flaming fish and rich tapestries. Traditions surface to conflict with contemporary issues. The further into the book one reads, the more fantastical the stories become. 

Habra's language, which no doubt is only enriched by the fact that the author speaks several, lulls with a powerful magic of its own:

"Calm down, child. Fear is a gust of cold wind you must not allow in your mind or heart. The way torrential storms ruthlessly invade fragile houses, fear's whirling eddies will possess you, penetrating through the least fissures … Look closely and see how tightly woven is the braided wheat wreath framing her, protecting her from all winged creatures, stallions, falcons, lions, even from angels. Like her, retreat into your center." (Page 175)

Habra's language alone is enough to transport. These are fairy tales for the adults who still believe—and those who need awakening from forgetting how to believe. These stories tell tales of love and loss, of a longing to leave the known behind and enter something greater and more universal—and surely that is the echo of the universal human heart. Each story builds an intimate world around the reader, often, but not always, with strong women in leading roles, even when they are struggling against cultural constraints demanding conformity. Through magical realism, these characters reflect the inner voices many of us hold deep inside.

Flying Carpets is a story collection in the grand tradition of storytelling. For those who know Habra's poetry, discovering her equal expertise in prose will be a treat. 

Hedy Habra, born and raised in Egypt, is of Lebanese origin. She received her M.F.A. and a Ph.D. in Spanish Literature from Western Michigan University where she currently teaches. Her poetry and fiction in French, Spanish, and English have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Smoking Poet, Puerto del Sol, The New York Quarterly, Cider Press Review, Nimrod, Poet Lore, and Dinarzad's Children Second Edition. Her critical essays have appeared in literary journals such as Chasqui and Latin American Literary Review. Her newest title is Tea in Heliopolis, a poetry collection published by Press 53.

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