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Time and place
How strange it feels to sit across the globe in another century and have an American writer hand me a slice of my own past

December 3, 2004

As I roamed around the book display at a writer's conference, the black and white cover of a book attracted my attention.

Perhaps it was the title that drew me to this book: Mother Country. Two words that tug at my heart. No, it must have been that old photograph, one that could have come out of just about any family album.

Can't judge a book by its cover?

Sure you can!

I had met the author during the conference. She seemed to be the shy and quiet type who would never push her book, even though this is her first. That alone prompted me to want a copy.

The story takes place in Taylor, Nevada, a fictitious small town of mostly immigrants back in the 1930s. I have never been to such a place, but through the authors' impeccable style it felt as if I had witnessed every incident. Somehow, as an emigrant, I can identify with many of the sentiments. Right from the first page, I am hooked. "I live in a green place now. . . I am more comfortable with shades of gray, the desert emptiness where I grew up. . ."

Told by a thirteen-year-old first generation girl, the story takes me back to the 1930's America. I see the little old ladies in their "Black misshapen sweaters. . . There is nothing little about them." yet I know those little old ladies. I remember the stories as Mala does. I see those old ladies as "Tears run down the seams of their faces." There is comfort in the "sameness" of our stories.

Tired of repetitions, bad language and bloody scenes that cover the pages of most novels, Mother Country offers me the serenity of nostalgia. I sit in Grams' kitchen with Mala and Josie and let them take me back to my own mother country where my grandmother would be "offering truths like slices of warm bread, simple and satisfying."

How strange it feels to sit across the globe in another century and have an American writer hand me a slice of my own past. How short is the distance between two hearts. I inhale every word and let it be the long needed rain in the thirsty desert of my memories.

Peggy Leon tells me, "Names are small things, a word or two, nothing more. But there is potency to them, the hope of fiction, and the solidity of truth." For the first time, I smile at all the useless 'H's in my name. I realize that, as long as there is solid truth, I won't need the hope of fiction.

"Birth is a matter of timing," she says. And I want to add, ". . . and place!" For I have come to know how at a time of fear, your place of birth can come back to haunt you! The softness of Peggy Leon's words makes the sharp edges bearable.

Although the story is interesting, I am more fascinated by lyrical phrases than the plot. Leon reminds us of our need for memories and the significance of our history. She also points out how people everywhere are on the move. "We were emigrants like our grandmothers, leaving the land they created." It feels good not to be alone.

Just when I thought there are no new words, Peggy Leon shows me it isn't so. While the emotion remains the same, a good writer has the power to play with words in a way that gives it new life.

A lot could be learned from this novel, but more than anything, "I learned there was no cure for dreams or memories."

.................... Peef Paff spam!

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by Shahrokh Meskoob

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