An expatriate Iranian woman struggles to reconcile her European life with her background.
Niloo is 8 when she flees with her mother and brother from their native Iran. Bahman, her father, stays behind; he has a life, and a dental practice, that he can’t or won’t uproot. He’s also addicted to opium. Over the next 20 years, Niloo sees her father four times. Each time, it is difficult to connect. Bahman finds his daughter humorless and foreign. Niloo blames her father for staying behind, for abandoning his family, for his addiction. She’s embarrassed by his village mannerisms. By now, Niloo has developed a successful academic career, married a Frenchman, moved to Amsterdam; she’s become sophisticated, cosmopolitan. But soon she finds and befriends a community of Iranian refugees in the cold Dutch city, most of them struggling for legal documentation. At the same time that she is embarrassed by her father, she grows alienated from her European husband. Nayeri’s (A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, 2013) second novel is richly imagined and frequently moving in its descriptions of the neither-here-nor-there immigrant’s life. No matter what she does, Niloo can’t seem to feel at home. In the meantime, the news from Iran grows worse, as Ahmadinejad takes power and protests break out. Nayeri manages these various threads—the personal, the political, the cultural, the generational—deftly, and the result is poignant, wise, and often funny. But not all the characters are equally drawn, and Niloo’s brother and mother get the short shrift: though they make various appearances in the narrative, they never come together as full-fledged characters. Likewise, Guillaume, Niloo’s French husband, seems more typecast than individually imagined. Still, we come to empathize deeply with Niloo and her father as well as with the refugees Niloo meets in Amsterdam.
A vital, timely novel about what it means to seek refuge.