Love, lust, and politics can sometimes exist harmoniously. They can also clash.
In the early 1920s, when Talla was 9 years old and living in Ghamsar, Iran, she married Sardar, a slightly older boy from the same remote village. Although it was an arranged marriage, in keeping with tradition, the two had eyed one another and approved the match. And although the union was not consummated until three years later—Sardar had big dreams and opted to travel to the nation’s capital and establish himself before settling into domesticity—by the time they moved to a Tehran suburb as husband and wife, it was clear to everyone that they were in love. There was heartbreak, too, as they lost one child and then another. Finally, in 1933, son Bahram was born. Not surprisingly, he became the apple of his parents’ eyes and was heavily indulged. Unlike his illiterate mother and father, Bahram attended school and excelled, eventually winning a scholarship to university. He also became a womanizer, and the novel charts the factors that led him there. The book is set against a constantly changing political milieu, and readers are made privy to the fall of the Qajar dynasty and the power grab of Reza Khan, who emerged as shah. Bahram’s support of socialist Mohammad Mosaddegh and Khalil Maleki, men who eschewed alliances with both Russia and the West, is posited in opposition to the ideas of Sardar and Talla, peasants unconcerned with politics. As they see it, life is unchanging; regardless of who is in power, they will toil and, later, revel in simple pleasures. The contrast is riveting.
Winner of 2015’s Prix Senghor for a debut novel by a Francophone writer, this compelling book raises important questions about indulgence, gender, community, and the impact of politics on everyday life.