Story collection is proof of passion kept alive as author moved from literature to law

Irehobhude O. Iyioha’s stories cross the globe, touch on tragedy and gentleness

Nigerian Canadian Irehobhude O. Iyioha started writing early, when she was about six years old. She always knew she wanted to write, and she says “leaving the English and Literature Department (at the University of Benin in Nigeria) to study law did not change the passion.”

She takes her writing seriously; “Writing is not, and has never been, a hobby.” She carves out time and commits to it, and one result is her new life-affirming collection of stories, A Place Beyond the Heart.

In this gem of a book, Iyioha offers timely and powerful tales set in locales as diverse as Toronto, Darfur, Ukraine, London, and Nigeria, and which touch on themes as diverse as the immigrant experience, transgender and cultural clashes, and a mother’s love that transcends death.

Iyioha’s career in law has won her many awards and accolades for her teaching, scholarship, and service to the community. Now a professor at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law, she does not necessarily draw on the research she does as a law professor for her fiction, but the stories sometimes, as she says, “tease at the outer edges or the core of my academic writings and activism.”

According to Iyioha, the stories in the first section, “Transition,” “fit within interconnected themes of war and migration.” The title of the collection was taken from the first story, “It’s Something That Happens to Other People,” which is set in Syria. One of the victims of the shelling says, “Love with peace? That . . . don’t happen to people like us.” But the privileged, with American passports as get-out-of-jail-free cards, can also be unexpected victims, swept up in the horror.

Some of the stories, like “Witness,” “Mama,” and “Take Me Home with You,” are unflinchingly honest and stark. “They are very emotional pieces, and the crafting of each requires research that takes me to places and events that are frightfully tragic. Any mother – or parent, really – can relate to the depth of suffering in each of these stories, and I didn’t want to minimize that experience,” Iyioha says.

Irehobhude O. Iyioha
Irehobhude O. Iyioha

The second half of A Place Beyond the Heart, the section called “Transcendence,” “offers stories with interconnected themes of tradition and social change,” says Iyioha. “The word transcendence reflects the changes and growth in the characters.”

Iyioha’s gift is to look beyond the obvious: in “The Way I See This,” two blind people find love during the pandemic. With blindness there is no colour, but there can still be untruth. These are stories to be savoured, their insights and truths brilliantly fashioned.

There are gentler stories, one about a couple connecting during a high-powered partners’ meeting in London, and one about the friendship of two young girls, which is imaginative and empowering.

“Transcendence” opens with a quote from Henry Ward Beecher: “The world’s battlefields have been in the heart chiefly; more heroism has been displayed in the household and the closet, than on the most memorable battlefields in history.”

Iyioha adds, “If the world’s battles are fought in the heart, where do we find a safe haven from their costs? Where is the place beyond the heart?”