An ambitious novel of an Iranian woman’s personal and professional struggles during a time of war and social unrest.
Powell (Two Weddings, 2011) tells the story of Roxana Ramsey, a young, highly educated Iranian woman living in New York during the start of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Although she considered herself a New Yorker, Roxana, like many other Iranian nationals visiting the United States on student visas, received a letter of deportation. She decided not to fight the order and returned to Tehran, via Paris, with her two best friends. But when the forward-thinking Roxana reached Iran, she was shocked by the transformation taking place there. With the country on the verge of returning to strict governmental rule, including the oppression of women, Roxana fought to hold onto her beliefs and her allegiance to two very different countries. Despite a slightly confusing beginning, the storyline quickly gains its footing and unfurls a captivating plot with a well-developed protagonist. Roxana’s personal, political and professional struggles are well-rendered throughout, although occasional scenes and snatches of dialogue would benefit from a bit more polish. The author attempts to pack in as much information as possible about historical events and cultural traditions, which makes the novel feel like a somewhat overwritten history lesson at times. That said, Powell does a good job of capturing the intense emotions of a very dramatic time and effectively uses the point of view of a highly intelligent woman who considered both countries her home.
An educational and enlightening, if sometimes excessively detailed, story of recent Iranian history.
Powell’s debut novel, the story of two couples searching for love and forgiveness, begins, ironically, with two funerals.
Catherine O’Keefe, beloved mother of Sarah, Paul and Karen, died of a massive heart attack at the age of 54 and ended up in heaven, where she’s certainly not at peace. She never thought she’d be able to see her own funeral, but with the aid of a cap-wearing angel named Oliver, she witnesses her grieving children and yearns to help her eldest, Sarah, who’s also dealing with the recent death of her husband. The other funeral, that of Dr. David Kelly, occurs in the same cemetery and for a brief moment, Sarah meets Dan, David’s son. Later, she dreams about her mother’s new life in heaven, unaware that her detailed visions are real, even down to the “lime-colored polka dot dress” Catherine wears on the other side. Concerned, Sarah’s siblings ask her to seek help, but she refuses, choosing to bury herself in her grief and confide in her adoptive sister, Sharlene, who, along with her runaway, HIV-positive sister, Lakisha, was taken in by the O’Keefe family as a foster child. While Catherine and David, with the bungling assistance and snappy dialogue of Oliver, play matchmaker with West Coast Sarah and East Coast Dan, Dan’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Rachel and his cruel mother, Anna, have other plans. Setting a novel in both New York and San Francisco, with their rich, individual atmospheres is ambitious, but to try to capture all of that and heaven, too, takes an ability the narrator’s cut-and-dried style lacks. By naming landmarks—the Golden Gate Bridge, Rockefeller Plaza or the “Magic Tree” and “Flower Tunnel” in heaven—the book invokes, rather than evokes, the unique atmosphere of each. The dialogue displays an easy humor and, despite the hardships faced, an inspirational tone. Although Powell’s depiction of heaven is quirky, her book reminds readers to appreciate the “piece of Heaven on earth” that “we all take for granted.”
A tale of motherly manipulation in which unanswered prayers on earth mirror the unanswered questions that remain, even in heaven.