A depiction of life after the Iranian Revolution will invite inevitable—and unfavorable—comparison with Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran.
The Revolution tore apart the Latifi clan, as first-time author Latifi recounts in this family saga. Her father is arrested on trumped-up murder charges, tried before a puppet court, and executed. Latifi’s courageous and cunning mother sends her two daughters—ten and eleven—to Austria for schooling and for safety, and they eventually settle in the US. The author learns English from television, studies hard, and becomes an attorney. After years apart, Mother and all the Latifi siblings are reunited in America, and the tale concludes with our heroine’s first, emotionally grueling trip back to Iran. Despite the thrilling backdrop, though—the tumultuous Iranian politics, international education, high-pitched emotions—the story is colorless and plodding. Experiences that might have been entrancing in the hands of another writer tend to the prosaic: “Day-to-day life in Iran was becoming impossible”; “Before long, I began to feel more optimistic about the future”; “I was . . . devastated by the break-up.” Occasionally, Latifi leavens such generalities with concrete, specific details—her first use of Nair, her discovery of library cards and of Jane Austen, her first visit to an American courtroom, the ugly plaid that seems ubiquitous in Virginia. For the most part, though, she breaks the cardinal show/don’t-tell rule, the result being an ultimately tedious read. In her summer law clerkship in Charleston, West Virginia, for example, Latifi felt so out of place that she quit, leaving in early July—and what a wonderful chapter this could have made, full of sights, sounds, and misunderstandings. But Latifi summarizes the entire affair with “I was hopelessly lonely in Charleston, and I found the place depressingly provincial.” Her tumultuous childhood is of interest, but it doesn’t make an on-again/off-again romance with a good-looking man (who remains two-dimensional) worth spending time with.
Photographs sprinkled throughout are the most riveting part of a flat memoir.