An energetically inventive epic, wrapped in a murder mystery, paints a broad picture of rapaciousness and revenge within the Iranian Jewish community of Los Angeles.
Confidently shepherding multiple characters over many decades and across two continents, Nahai (Sunday’s Silence, 2001, etc.) delivers a long, dark, broad–brush stroke saga that doubles as a primer to the 3,000-year-old history of the Jewish people of Iran. In her opening sentence she introduces the monster at the center of events, Raphael’s Son, found with his throat slashed in 2013. This beast of cruelty and deceit has many enemies, not least because of the gigantic Ponzi scheme he has been running that collapsed in 2008 but has left him apparently unpunished and no less wealthy. Then the story loops back to Raphael’s Son’s origins in 1950s Tehran. There, the Soleyman family has amassed great wealth, but owing to his sleepwalking, mysteriously glowing heart and bad health, eldest son Raphael will not live to inherit. Instead, his brother Aaron shoulders responsibility for the family’s money, to the fury of Raphael’s wife, known as the Black Bitch of Bushehr. Despite the impossible timing, she insists that her child is Raphael’s son and heir to the Soleyman fortune. This obsessive claim will lead to kidnapping, murder and much misery, until the Iranian revolution arrives, replacing old outrages with appalling new ones. Aaron’s widow flees to the United States, as does the unscrupulous Raphael’s Son, who has garnered a fortune from extortion. A second act of crime and punishment is played out in California among a close group of refugees who may have begun new lives but cannot escape the long reach of their histories, and that includes Raphael’s Son himself.
Nahai’s boisterous, sardonic, sometimes-lurid portrait of a community and the devil in its midst offers unusual, engrossing storytelling.