An Iranian writer prized internationally and among fellow writers of fiction deserves a wider American readership for this rich, provocative collection of stories.
Though there’s occasionally a “once upon a time,” fablelike quality to these stories, Taraghi's fiction (A Mansion in the Sky, 2003, etc.) reflects her own experience as a woman born in Tehran in 1939; she has suffered the upheavals of war and revolution, seen the rules change and disappear, and has long lived in Paris. Many of these are tales of two cities, of relocating to a city where one cannot be at home—“Our lives as foreigners in Paris are full of hidden anxieties,” she writes in “The Neighbor,” one of the shorter and strongest stories here—while their home in pre-revolutionary Tehran exists only in memory. “If Iran was not at war, I would go back home,” explains the narrator of the same story. “If it weren’t for my fear of the bombs and the rockets, I would not stay here a single day. But in truth, the real battlefield is here.” Though the turbulence gives each story a political dimension, the human condition is at the heart of these stories, which explore the ambiguities of freedom and the essence of exile through a series of narrators, many of whom share gender, generational and geographical specifics with the author, but most have a limited perspective and some seem to have blinders on. One of the longer stories, “Amina’s Great Journey,” traces the arc of a Bangladeshi maid’s life and travails, as recounted by the condescending narrator who employs her, first in Tehran and later in Paris, and who becomes her reluctant benefactor. In “The Encounter,” the narrator finds herself at the mercy of a nanny she had fired, perhaps unjustly, in the post-revolution turning of tables. There is plenty of dark humor in these stories amid “the painful ambiguity of conjecture and uncertainty.”
The simple diction throughout belies the depth and ambition of this fiction.