GARDEN OF THE BRAVE IN WAR by Terence O'Donnell

GARDEN OF THE BRAVE IN WAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An affectionate recollection of ten years spent in rural Iran in the 1960s. After teaching at the university in Isfahan for several years, O'Donnell, an American in his thirties, moved out to the beautiful farm and orchard--named after a courageous soldier--to better appreciate traditional village life. The farm was rundown, yet exquisite; its biggest crop was pomegranates, but it also yielded grapes, walnuts, apples, pears, plums, and quinces. The profits, while not great, were ""still sufficient to keep in a good supply of vodka, to send for books, to buy gas for the Landrover. . . in short, enough to live there in a simple and, on the whole, quite satisfactory way."" More work would have yielded more profit, but O'Donnell clearly preferred his cypress alley and study fire, and especially the time spent with his Iranian friends and acquaintances. Mamdali, the servant, sees himself not just as keeper of the garden but of O'Donnell as well--overseeing his intake of vodka, his episodes in town, and protecting his ""face"" or honor. Among the farm's visitors is Akbari the jester, an opium addict who alternates in his jests between hard-edged buffoonery and a weary gentleness. (His greetings from his master's family include: ""Mahin, she whose behind puts to shame the elephant's, remembers you in her prayers. . . Our dear little Asghar, pure fresh bud of the family bough--who was recently caught with his tool in a goat. . ."") Most memorable of all is the Prince, a Westernized aristocrat equally at home talking to foreign intellectuals or counseling his villagers, equally given to acts of vengeance or extraordinary charity. There are also petty thieves and holy men, journeys taken and pleasures savored. The ending to this sensuous existence comes suddenly, however, as one day the merchant-owner of the farm decides to turn his land into a Western-style housing development. The jester tries to cheer the despairing O'Donnell--""You'll be rid of us terrible Iranians, everyone of us crooked as a snake""--but the loss is real. ""Nothing lasts,"" says Mamdali. ""Neither this garden, nor ourselves. . . God wishes it."" A book of sensibility and beauty, made all the more striking just now, by the insight it gives into Iranian culture and character.

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 1980
Publisher: Ticknor & Fields/Houghton Mifflin