Mossanen (The Last Romanov, 2012, etc.) presents a dark novel steeped in international traditions about a woman, betrayed by those whom she holds dearest, who teeters on the brink of sanity.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and professional photographer Soraya’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity is no exception. The only daughter of privileged upper-class Jewish Iranians, she marries soul mate Aziz when she’s 15 years old. Soraya’s crazy about him—and that’s no exaggeration. During their 20 years of marriage, Soraya’s loved Aziz so obsessively she’s secretly taken birth control pills because she can’t stand the thought of sharing him with anyone, even their own child. So when Soraya spies Aziz in bed with her best friend, Parnaveh, she comes unraveled and plans her own convoluted payback on the unsuspecting couple. Telling Aziz she needs to fly to LA for a photo shoot, Soraya buys a creepy old home—the mansion’s atrium harbors a grave containing the cremains of the previous owner’s husband and provides a fertile environment for a foul-smelling, rare and toxic plant—and begins gathering the tools for her revenge. Soon, fluttering wings swoop into the courtyard as legions of butterflies (Parnaveh means “butterfly”) and an owl (similar to one her grandmother once befriended) appear and begin to roost in the trees. Soraya views these as good omens, but the author’s venture into magical realism bodes ill for readers hoping for a more straightforward, down-to-earth approach. As Soraya compiles a photo album for Aziz and readies her house for her former BFF’s arrival, flashbacks of her family’s life before and after the Islamic Revolution dominate her thoughts. The author awkwardly weaves these sections into the story seemingly at random, but the contrasts are nevertheless interesting and relevant to understanding Soraya’s mental state. By the time Parnaveh arrives in LA with Aziz in tow, most readers will already have pieced together what Soraya is about to discover.
Although Mossanen’s prose is at times sensual and haunting, the overall narrative never effectively transitions beyond the caterpillar stage.