Ostensibly, in Breathing in Spring, Nadia Khansa has written a deeply personal collection of verse, emphasized by simple line illustrations.
It is a poetical autobiographical odyssey that you are being invited to share and experience, which charts the highs and lows of a life which has been marred by war, violence, loss, self-doubt and feelings of isolation. The titles that Khansa gives to the different sections of her collection show her progression from ruin to healing and with this in mind, some of these poems contain discussion of the horrendous events that Khansa has endured and are not for readers who do not want to be confronted with raw issues.
Khansa’s poetry directly presents her thoughts and feelings, of the injustices that she has been subjected to and there is a lot of pain here. I like the sharpness of her poems, the sparseness of imagery in the ones which are the most brutal and the shortness of the tone as a result read like a confrontation; not an attack but an eagerness for you to see, to share, to understand. Whilst this collection is about healing, it is also about coming out of the shadows and laying things bare and this is reflected in Khansa’s style. You cannot fail to be moved by her poetic narrative.
The depiction of violence, I found, helps as a context for Khansa’s renaissance and the first two sections, Dying and Haunting are dark. But there is a lot of positivity in this collection, especially in the last section entitled Resurrection. What I particularly liked about this is that her verse doesn’t preach; it is not didactic in telling you what you should do but is a resolved representation of Khansa’s state of being.
Her depiction of life in Lebanon before having to flee is particularly evocative, resonating with a nostalgia for the loss of an idyllic life, most poignantly described in the poems Magic Little Secrets and Rose Gardens in Lebanon, which I loved; I felt the sadness at these things being past as these poems are imbued with personal detail and Rose Gardens in Lebanon has an almost dreamlike tone to it with her grandmother and her gifts and the blooming garden imagery.
Khansa’s poetry is moving and honest and having read it, I will never be able to look at my son’s stuffed animals again without feeling a great weight of sorrow.
This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I read it as an ARC.