French-Iranian screenwriter Djavadi blends the fates of individuals and families with the history of modern Iran in this award-winning debut novel about exile, integration, and the human cost of political opposition.
Narrated by Kimiâ Sadr, youngest daughter in a family of intellectuals and political dissidents, the narrative jumps from a contemporary fertility clinic in Paris to her childhood in Iran. "I'm the granddaughter of a woman born in a harem," she explains, recounting the dramatic birth, during a windstorm, of blue-eyed Nour, who later bears six sons in an arranged marriage, reads Dostoevsky, eventually leaves her husband, and dies the day Kimiâ is born. History, both familial and national, swirls across every page. Djavadi works hard to keep the reader oriented within the welter of stories and characters: "Just be patient a little bit longer, dear Reader." "Since we can, let's jump on a literary magic carpet and zip through time and space." Well-placed footnotes help, the tone often gently mocking. Though there's plenty of tragedy here, there's humor as well. "Life is such that, even in the darkest depths of the drama, there is always still a little room left for the absurd." One of the narrator's recurring frustrations, which Djavadi conveys bitingly well, is Western ignorance about Iran. Woven into the gripping depictions of political unrest, family crises, national upheaval, and personal secrets is an excellent primer on the history of modern Iran. Djavadi knows her material cold and every scene rings true, from the bombing of the family's Tehran apartment by the secret police, to an escape across the mountains of Kurdistan on horseback to their reception at the French Embassy in Istanbul. Most affecting of all is her hard-won understanding of exile: "To really integrate into a culture...you have to disintegrate first." It is through the tales of her family that the narrator survives. Of her forebears Kimiâ says, "After so much time and distance, it's not their world that flows in my veins anymore, or their languages or traditions or beliefs, or even their fears, but their stories."
Authentic, ambitious, richly layered, and very readable.