- Paperback: 324 pages
- Publisher: Alesa Lightbourne (July 19, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0692758100
- ISBN-13: 978-0692758106
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 124 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Kurdish Bike: A Novel Paperback – July 19, 2016
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Star Rating: 5 / 5
The Kurdish Bike is a gripping story of one woman's immersion into a not-so-comfortable world, where she struggles to make sense of critical issues, like violence, lack of respect for women, poverty, and the general sense of the absurd characteristic of war-ridden areas. But it is more than that. When Theresa answers the ad to teach at a Kurdish school, she has no idea of the challenges that lie ahead. Now, thrown in an unknown world, she has to reconcile with new cultural values and witness the aftermath of war and its implications on culture and lifestyle. Can her voice be heard? What does it take to replace structures of oppression? What hope do the marginalized have vis-à-vis the cultural divide and the harsh political landscape? Alesa Lightbourne's debut explores such critical issues and a lot, lot more.
Set against the backdrop of a powerful political landscape The Kurdish Bike offers a stunning social, political, and cultural commentary of what it is like to live in a third world country torn apart by war. The single mom, the newly recruited teacher on a bike, makes friends with native women and her contact and relationship with them lead her to get glimpses of the not-so-obvious conflicts that threaten life in the country. Bezma's family stands out as a symbol of the oppressed and fans of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and A Dry White Season by Andre Brink will adore Alesa Lightbourne's evocative writing, the reminiscences of war images, and the general malaise felt by millions of people, plus the pain of belonging to their own country.
As a debut, The Kurdish Bike underscores success at many levels. First, the prose is polished and rings through the ears like music. The author has the rare gift of weaving national conflict into the lives of individuals. And then there is the biting sense of humor, the ability to portray hope through simple relationships, to find meaning in the will to survive each day at a time. The characters are well grounded, sculpted to reflect the social landscapes from which they sprang. In spite of the powerful conflict that permeates every layer of this book, the unspoken words and the silent cries, there is a current of positive energy communicated through laughter, love, and friendship. The novel is beautiful in a haunting sort of way.
Reviewed by Romauld Dzemo
Manhattan Book Review
Star Rating: 5/5
Few books have the ability to engage the reader so much that they feel the emotions of the author and characters. The Kurdish Bike by Alesa Lightbourne is one of those books that have strong characters and story, so much so that the reader feels like a member of the family.The novel begins with Theresa Turner, who's a single mother and looking for work. After a teaching job in Saudi Arabia, she applies for a teaching job at a school in Kurdistan, in Iraq; to her surprise, she lands the job.
Wary of a country ridden by ethnic conflict, Theresa is amazed to see the poor living conditions of people living in Kurdistan. Determined to make the best of her time in Kurdistan, Theresa purchases a bike and sets out to explore the nearby villages. Theresa meets Bezma, a village girl, and her life gives her a peek into the lives of women in third world countries. Each conflict in Bezma's family makes her realize the importance of being educated and independent in this world, but also highlights the fact that women all over the world suffer from similar problems. Recently separated by her ex-husband and losing her life savings in the process, Theresa feels her problems are inconsequential, as she is appalled by the suffering of women in Kurdistan, who have to endure genital mutilation and child marriages. Being in the company of strong women of the village, Theresa learns the value of her comfortable life back in the United States and vows to make a difference in the lives of Bezma and her students at the Academy.
The story is admirable for its characters, for they are not only well-thought out, but also reflective of a country whose people are torn by a decade-long war. The characters of Ara, Bezma, Pat, Seema, and especially Theresa herself are well-developed and are a mirror to the courage and strength shown by women in times of distress. Alesa Lightbourne has shown excellent penmanship writing this novel based on her personal experience and shows how involved she was in the lives of the people she taught and met in Iraq. If you are interested in knowing about the lives, cultures, and hardships faced by people in the Middle East, this book is a must-read.
From the Author
The first question readers ask me about The Kurdish Bike is how much of it is true. The answer is, almost everything except for a few scenes at the end. Given the ultra-sensitive nature of the topics addressed, such as female genital mutilation, honor killing and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, I felt it necessary to protect my friends in Kurdistan from shame, ostracism and possible imprisonment.
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Teresa, the narrator, is a fifty-something American teacher, recently divorced and nearly financially wiped out by her ex-husband. With her only child away at college, she seeks change by taking a position teaching in a for profit school in Kurdistan. This is a grim and rigid institution she comes to refer to as “The Fortress”. The Fortress is populated by a ragtag collection of expats and Middle Easterners who form minor narratives in themselves, but the main thrust of the story is driven by Teresa’s desire for freedom. The “Kurdish Bike” in the title is her means of escape from the confines of the Fortress, of making connections with the Kurdish people in the local village. In the process she discovers much about their devastating recent history, and the millenniums of struggle that have saturated this ancient countryside. Always, the human relationships are at the forefront, conveyed in clear and polished prose, with humor and warmth.
To simply list the issues Teresa encounters in Kurdistan- abandoned women, female genital mutilation, honor killings, the total dominance of women’s lives and decisions by the men in their family, and potential jihadist recruits- would make The Kurdish Bike sound like a grim jeremiad. It is anything but. We are instead led through an engaging and sometimes dramatic story to see the world though new- and less judgmental- eyes. Teresa is continually confronted not just with the challenges women face in Kurdish society, but with the mirroring challenges she faces in her own. The result is a more complex, human, and far more powerful understanding- one that helps to erase the picture of the Kurds as an exotic “other” and lets us see through to our common humanity. And perhaps enables us to see our western culture as sometimes not so advanced as we would like to think.
I am rarely moved to write reviews, and don’t do a lot of book recommending, but I’m passing copies of The Kurdish Bike out to friends and find myself talking and thinking about it a lot. It’s one of the most memorable books I have read in a long, long time. More than a good read, it’s a book you feel good about having read.
Although the book isn't autobiographical, I felt while I was reading this book that I was learning so much about her personal life at the time, and what she did when she wasn't teaching. It was also very humbling for me to read a tale based on the other side - when lived there, I lived as an international student and I was comfortable provided for and didn't have even a third of the problems Bezma and the people of the village did. This novel reminded me of that. It also reminded me of the cultural differences I experienced and all that I hadn't even heard of.
I was a book that was very easy to read with a captivating story and shows how people continue to live in some parts of the world
Second, the story is based on experiences the author had while teaching English in Kurdistan. The characters are melds of people she knew at the time. The whole comes together as very real, so real that the reader feels s/he knows the characters too, and wants to find out what may be their lot today. The characters and the locations stay in the reader’s mind – only a fine writer can do that!
Third, the “story” reveals important historical commentary and information about Iraq, Kurdistan, Turkey, and more. How village people, from lowly orphans to rich and powerful families cope and live, is shown. Also included are professionals from other countries who have come to work beside the Kurds. Higher-ranking Kurds were educated abroad in Western universities. The sense of local and international cultures cooperating or clashing is very interesting.
Fourth, there is humor. Every-day giggles, laughter at the unexpected and strange, laughter to cope with fears, at the self, at challenges. There’s bemusement and irony.
Fifth, the issues are large and real. There is tragedy and there is suffering, especially for females of all ages who have to endure second-class status in their traditional power structures. The increasing influence of Western ideas create knowledge and ideals for some, problems for others.
Main characters include Teresa’s fellow teachers Pat and Jake, student Seema, friends Bezma, Ara, and Houda. Also important: Hevar, “family Hevar,” Binny, and school officials Madame, Zaki, and Mohammed.
Most of all, I loved the inner monologue of the writer. The reader doesn’t need to be a teacher to understand the writer’s observations and problems, and how she talks to herself about it. But all the musings, from the first examination of the hills surrounding the school to the reflections on her life’s many directions (failures, loves, triumphs) are appealing to me. Her thoughts are funny, sensitive, and caring. She communicates her love for the local people and fellow teachers beautifully. Her observations become the reader’s. Ultimately, I saluted the wisdom in the book.
I highly recommend this book!