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 August 29, 2016
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.
Reviewed by Rabiya Jawed August 22, 2016
BookLife / Publishers Weekly
Fresh out of a disastrous marriage, 57-year-old Theresa Turner, the heroine of this moving novel, leaves the Pacific Northwest for a teaching position at The International Academy of Kurdistan in Iraq in 2010. She dubs the imposing school designed for diplomats’ children “The Fortress” and is soon exploring the local bazaar (“a wonderland for the senses, this cacophony of colored plastic, traffic honks, donkey brays, dust swirls and smells of chicken fat dripping from spits”) and visiting the home of Ara and her daughter Bezma, two women in the local village. As Theresa struggles to implement her employer’s rigid curriculum and weathers financial calamity, the purchase of a bicycle lets her occupy two worlds: in one, her colleagues warn her away from “ragheads” and roads littered with land mines, and in the other she becomes something like family to Ara and Bezma, whose lives, ambitions, and fears soon become enmeshed with her own. Lightbourne writes in a cinematic prose and easily folds in background about the Kurdish people’s suffering under Saddam Hussein. This story of sisterhood, motherhood, and nationhood should have wide appeal.
Reviewed by BookLife in Publishers Weekly February 5, 2018
Books having to do with the Middle East always interest me, and especially those set in Iraq. This is a region that the author says is “older than the flood.” It is a land that has been ruled at one time or another by the Assyrians, the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Islamic Arabs, Mongols, and Ottomans. I was really enthralled with this part of the book. In The Kurdish Bike by Alesa Lightbourne, the protagonist, Theresa, is an American teacher working in Iraqi Kurdistan. Unlike the other expat teachers assigned to the school, Theresa yearns to get out and see the landscape and meet the people. Her purchase of a bicycle gives her the freedom to explore. On one of her trips out she meets a Kurdish family that becomes her “village family.”
I enjoyed the portions of the book that address some of the differences between the Arab and Kurdish cultures. The story addresses some traditions that have been banned in most of the world, but are still followed in the more rural areas (such as female genital mutilation). I felt like I had met the characters through Ms. Lightbourne’s thorough character development. Most of the story is based on the author’s actual experiences in the region. I can envision Theresa riding along on her bike; Ara and Theresa dancing and laughing; Theresa’s frustration with the love-smitten Bezma. I wanted to remain right there among these people with such open hearts. They know how to appreciate the small things in life.
Reviewed by Betty Taylor for Readers’ Favorite May 2017
Plot: The Kurdish Bike is compelling on multiple levels. With external and internal complications always around the corner, the novel’s narrative engine fires on all cylinders.
Prose: The prose is lively and deliberate, and it’s easy for readers to relax into the author’s capable hands. Lightbourne boasts a unique voice and a gift for imaginative description.
Originality: The Kurdish Bike offers a relatable story that readers will find original and emotionally resonant—a propulsive read.
Character Development: Theresa Turner is a fully developed, complexly layered character. Her thoughts are active and compelling. The supporting cast of characters is captured in language that is succinct and lovely, and always poignant.