A compelling family saga that spans nearly a century and paints a loving, true-to-life portrait of a nation.
The Daytons’ novel is a deliciously complex patchwork quilt that weaves together the stories of Nargess, a long-lived and resilient matriarch, her nephew Javad, the clumsy attorney-cum-art student looking to marry, and her son-in-law Saeed, hesitantly returning home after years in exile. With these characters and others, the authors deliver the pieces of a gorgeous, decades-spanning family drama and, more crucially, the story of a nation—Iran. By delivering this bevy of interlocking portraits, the authors paint an image of Persian life more vibrant and realistic than any single history. The book follows Nargess’ sprawling clan, and a supporting cast of dozens, through nearly 90 years of Iranian collective life. From the country’s early modern history under British hegemony, through the time of the shah, the novel traces Iran’s entry into the modern Middle East. And then, from domestic and foreign perspectives, the authors dictate the revolutionary transition to the reign of the ayatollahs in the 1980s and ’90s. The closing movements leave us at the brink of the present as they capture the cultural and political intricacies of life in post-9/11 Persia. The Daytons’ writing style is detailed without lapsing into baroque hypercomplexity and their prose is lush and surprisingly dexterous; they’re as comfortable rendering the design details of a mansion anteroom as they are describing the political intrigue of a military coup and they do comedy as well as they do espionage. This variety is calibrated to mimic the complexities of 20th-century Iran, and the novel is a fascinating tribute to that land. The Daytons are also gracious enough to provide a cast list of major characters in approximate order of appearance as well as a glossary.
If you can’t afford a plane ticket to Tehran, visit the Daytons’ House.