Elegant aspirational novel of life in post-revolutionary Iran.
“The whole town knows the story—the real one—though no one talks about it, because that’s our way. We prefer pretty lies to ugly truths.” Twin sisters Saba and Mahtab Hafezi live at the end of the universe—or, more specifically, in a tiny rice-farming village deep in the Iranian interior, having moved from Tehran to escape the eyes and hands of the mullahs and revolutionary guards. The place is no Macondo: There’s precious little magic to it and a lot of dust and grime. Still, in Nayeri’s (Another Jekyll, Another Hyde, 2012, etc.) richly imaginative chronicle, everyone dreams there, not least Saba, whose expectations crumble in the face of a reality for which she’s not prepared, having instead devoted herself to moving to America and studying endless English word lists in anticipation (“What is abalone?” she wonders). Her mother, a small force of nature, is a fierce champion, though she’s not happy that Saba is out in the sticks: “I won’t have her raised in this place...wasting her days with village kids, stuck under a scarf memorizing Arabic and waiting to be arrested.” Alas, a mother’s protectiveness is not a big enough shield, and Saba finds herself caught up in events much larger than she can imagine. It takes a village full of sometimes odd, sometimes ordinary people to afford Saba the wherewithal to realize her dreams, which take her far, far from there.
Lyrical, humane and hopeful; a welcome view of the complexities of small-town life, in this case in a place that inspires fear instead of sympathy.