Iran-born Delijani pens a horrifying picture of life in her home country in this sad yet compelling first novel.
Evin Prison provides the backdrop for Neda’s first days. Her mother, Azar, is driven through the streets of Tehran in 1983 as some of her captors take her to the hospital for the birth of her child. But their cruelty and reluctance to treat their prisoners like human beings are made even clearer by the way they stop along the way in order to grill Azar about her politics. They finally allow her to have her child at a hospital but refuse to let her rest after the birth, even though a doctor insists she must stay for further treatment. Four years later, little Omid sits in his family’s kitchen preparing to eat his dinner when government agents storm his home and drag his mother and father off, leaving him to the care of his aging grandparents and his aunt, who has seen two of her sisters disappear into government-run prisons. Then there are Maryam and her loving husband, Amir. Held in filthy conditions in a detention center that is part of Evin Prison, Amir dreams only of his pregnant wife’s loving arms and their beloved countryside. What he receives is anything but comforting. Facing trial, he finally meets his little daughter, Sheida, born while he was imprisoned. Switching back and forth during the years of war with Iraq and more current history, the book follows the three young people and family members as they navigate the minefield of Iranian dissent. Delijani is exceptionally talented as a writer, and the subject matter is both compelling and timely, however some of her imagery is jarring and seems out of place, and the relentlessly depressing storyline may make some readers uncomfortable.
Delijani falls back on her family’s personal experience to write this searing and somber slice-of-life novel, centered around children whose parents were singled out for persecution by the Iranian government, and scores a win with her grittiness and uncompromising realism.