RONYA OTHMANN’S debut novel, The Summers, begins with a reversal. At the end of the prefatory chapter, the main character, Leyla Hassan, seems to be speaking for the author as she muses: “You always tell a story from its end. … Even if you start with the beginning.” In this way, Othmann announces a departure from traditional chronology in storytelling, a turn toward a more dreamlike structure. As the writer traces Leyla’s development from childhood to adulthood, the elusive nature of memory emerges as an abiding theme, suggesting temporal indeterminacy as a key feature of the novel.
Leyla shuttles between summers with her father’s Yazidi family in a small village in Syria and winters in Munich in her mother’s native Germany. Leyla’s father explains that the culture of the Yazidis, the Kurdish-speaking religious group to which his family belongs, is marked by its geographical indefinability. He explains that the official name of Syria overlaps with the unofficial territory of Kurdistan, a land that has no formal boundaries, and he warns Leyla that the name Kurdistan is unmentionable outside the family. The need for secrecy thus becomes an important early imperative for Leyla.
Anne Charles cohosts the cable-access show All Things LGBTQ.