Searing novel, by Iranian exile Djavahery, of love and betrayal in a time of revolution.
“If we were to have a reunion one day, it would have to take place in a cemetery.” In his English-language debut, screenwriter/novelist Djavahery writes pensively of an unnamed young man, just 13 when we meet him, who is hopelessly smitten by his 16-year-old cousin, Niloufar, whose name means “water lily” in Farsi. She is beautiful, with long, black, curly hair and large eyes, and she swims like a dolphin in the cool waters of the Caspian Sea, carefree thanks to prosperous parents who are also members of the Communist Party: “Wealth, power, an elegant mother who looked like a Hollywood starlet…so different from the archetype of our mothers.” Like a figure out of Homer, Nilou also happens to have numerous suitors, two in the lead, one as beautiful as she, the other a klutz with the demeanor of a “beaten dog” whom our narrator lures into a compromising situation that will forever shame him. Not even the arrival of another cousin, half Iranian and half German, who sports “the tiniest bikini on the south coast of the Caspian” can dim the ardor of the local boys for Nilou. Come the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini a few years later, and all those golden youth face doom. Called into service in the war that soon erupts with Iraq, some are squandered in suicide attacks while Nilou disappears, joining a leftist revolutionary group in Kurdistan, or so the narrator believes. A comrade eventually betrays her, as will her cousin, who, having also joined a Communist cell, decides that he cannot face the torture that is visited on him when he’s captured. At times reminiscent of Giorgio Bassani’s Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Djavahery’s novel is an aching evocation of a paradise lost, one that is impossible to regain, even in our narrator’s searching dreams.
Vivid, shattering, and utterly memorable.