Persian Brides ($22.50; Feb. 1998; 200 pp.; 0-8076-1430-0): This raucous and colorful first novel by Rabinyan, an Israeli journalist and playwright, convincingly re-creates the complex texture of life in the Jewish quarter of a Persian village at the beginning of the 20th century. The major characters, 15-year-old Flora (who's pregnant, and abandoned) and her younger cousin Nazie (who longs for Flora's brother, to whom she was promised at birth) mature quickly as members of a vigorous subculture of women hardened by their unfair share of the burdens of the world and their combative relationships with men and ``tradition.'' Rabinyan's portrait of their ``almond tree alley,'' often reminiscent of Sholom Aleichem, is distinguished by knowledgeable descriptions of the rituals of birth and burial and peopled with such memorable supporting characters as a prostitute rumored to be the lover of a village demon. A very assured and entertaining debut performance.