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Review: Ayub Nuri’s Being Kurdish in a Hostile World, Gillian Best’s The Last Wave and Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me

Being Kurdish in a Hostile World

By Ayub Nuri

University of Regina Press, 264 pages, $29.95

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A memoir in which the author is not the star, this is a timely book in the wake of last month's Kurdistan independence referendum. Ethnic Kurds have desired an independent homeland since Kurdistan was apportioned to Iraq in the carving up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, though this book is also not exactly a history of that struggle.

Instead, Being Kurdish in a Hostile World is a hybrid: an eyewitness account of what it means to be from this mountainous region in northern Iraq bordering Turkey and Iran. From Ayub Nuri's earliest memories at the opening of the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons on the author's hometown of Halabja – through his work as a journalist during the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq, the sectarian violence that followed and the rise of the Islamic State – to read these events from a Kurdish perspective is to see this history in a new light.

Nuri's aim is clear: "Whatever hardship independence might bring," the now-Canadian journalist writes, "it would at least be of our own making."

The Last Wave

By Gillian Best

House of Anansi, 382 pages, $22.95

Told from multiple perspectives, The Last Wave is the story of Martha, a woman who swims the English Channel 10 times. Though she likely wouldn't describe herself this way, there's some proto-feminist rebellion to Martha, a 1960s housewife who aspires to something other than cooking a roast when her husband's boss comes over for dinner. And swimming the English Channel is a grand but not pretty pursuit: chopping through 34 kilometres of cold salt water leaves the human body swollen and chafed, at best.

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For six decades, the sea is Martha's escape. But where is the line between escape and escapism? Martha's hours buoyed in the waves leave her no more prepared to address the knots in her life when she's on dry land (and, oh, are there knots: loneliness, dementia, a child pushed away by homophobia). Maybe the rebellion has its limit.

Something I admire about this novel is Gillian Best's commitment to the difficult. Best does offer her reader a resolution at the end – one that's only partway, but true in the way that life offers few full resolutions.

Stay with Me

By Ayobami Adebayo

Knopf, 272 pages, $34.95

Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel opens in 2008 with a mystery. Directed at "you," the short chapter references a 15-year estrangement now coming to an end, its cause and the reasons for its conclusion both undefined.

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The narrative then rockets back to 1985: Yejide and Akin are a loving couple living in Ilesa in southwestern Nigeria. Both are university-educated and working – they are set for a prosperous future. One catch: after trying through four years of marriage, they have yet to have children; Akin's family pushes him to take a second wife, against Akin's wishes.

Like The Fishermen, Chigozie Obioma's 2015 debut, Stay with Me is a domestic novel set against Nigerian politics, to equal effect. More than backdrop or plot device, national politics is a macrocosm for the themes explored in the household. Set primarily during Ibrahim Babangida's military junta, Stay with Me (shortlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction when it was published in the Britain earlier this year) explores the meaning of trust, and whether it can be regained in both a family and a country.

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