Monday, January 29, 2018

My Name Is Ayla by Phetra H. Novak

My Name Is Ayla was a difficult book to read, and an even more difficult book to review. It is a beautiful story with a heart-warming romance . . . but it is also an ugly story with heart-breaking relationships. I love Phetra H. Novak for having the courage to tell it, but (and this is me being totally honest) I hated her for how she had to end it.

My heart soared so high at times, it made the final fall that much more painful.

At its heart, this is a serious exploration of religious extremism, cultural intolerance, and the honor killings that result from blind hatred. To her credit, Novak tackles a difficult subject very well, and with a surprising amount of tact and understanding. What Ayla's family subjects her to is completely unforgivable, a betrayal of a love that should be unquestionable, but her characters make it clear that it is violence is born not of Muslim culture or Islamic beliefs, but of the same kind of fundamentalism that gives rise to terrorism.

Ayla is a wonderful young woman, as strong and as brave as any mythological heroine. Despite being beaten nearly to death, she refuses to apologize for who she is, and refuses to hide herself from the world. As for Peter, he is precisely the kind of lover she deserves, a knight in blue armor who never pities her or feels sorry for her, but loves her for precisely who and what she is. While I can see a potential for some readers to find fault with their relationship, bristling at the suggestion that only a polyamorous man could love a transgender woman, it is an expedient means of bringing two lovers together in a very short time, without any awkward fumbling or fetishizing of her gender. In addition, it is just a beautiful exploration of sexuality, and it makes Peter as much of an ally as a lover, allowing Novak to explore a different kind of hatred and intolerance among his Swedish coworkers.

Like I said earlier, this was a difficult read. As wonderful as Ayla and Peter are together, and as glorious as their romance is, the fear of further attacks is always lingering beneath and behind every scene, culminating in a series of sucker punches to the reader's gut. I cannot say I am a fan of the ending, even after having thought it over, but I understand why Novak had to end it that way and I hope the power of it serves to open a few eyes (and minds).
Phetra often refers to herself as the odd man out, the dorky book nerd. She’d rather spend time with a good book or making up fantastic stories with even more fantastic characters, than live in the real world dealing with real people. The real world is strange, in a very non-humorous way, and people in it complicate it to the point of wearing you out. In the written word world, whether it’s someone else's words or her own, things might get busy, complicated, and even downright painful, but somewhere along the line, a heroes always on the horizon. He’s probably not a prim and proper, church-going pretty-boy since the author prefers rebellious men and women who don't follow the protocols of society. Phetra lives with her family—two children, a domestic partner, and their two cats in Gothenburg, Sweden. When reading her books, you’ll notice she always finds a way to bring her own culture into her books.

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