Spirited first fiction—a novel in verse, no less—blends social commentary with a tricky love story across the ages involving the 14th-century Persian sensualist poet Hafez and a teenaged New York beauty.
The verse might be free, but in New York as we know it the path to liberation in love is fraught with peril. Iranian-American Columbia professor Pirooz, lonely and despairing, goes to the Sonora Desert to kill himself. Fate brings him to the shadow of two saguaro cacti, which happen to be the reincarnations of two legendary Persian poets. Rumi and Hafez talk Pirooz out of his funk, and he returns to New York, but the encounter kindles in Hafez a yearning for life as he knew it before he became a plant, so he transforms into a curly-haired young cabbie and reintroduces himself to Pirooz by giving him a ride. The professor is overjoyed to have such a boon companion, but Hafez also remains true to his former nature by falling hard for precocious Miraz, only 14 but in her last year of high school. Despite the admonitions of Pirooz, who warns him about American laws such as the ones against sex with minors, and the appearance of cooler-headed Rumi, who seems able to change his appearance at will, Hafez and Miraz delay their bliss only long enough for her to turn 15, then run away together to Montauk, where they cavort naked in the ocean until Hafez is arrested and charged with statutory rape. The trial, which proceeds in spite of Miraz’s pregnancy and protests, is a rumination on love and the law; in a flight of fancy Hafez is freed, returning to Manhattan with his beloved intending to live happily ever after only to encounter tragedy in the city’s mean streets. Can Love survive?
A witty, insightful clash of cultural perspectives, but some extended professorial digressions tend to render the poetic pedantic.