Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Septembers of Shiraz - Dalia Sofer


I had a hard time believing that this was Dalia Sofer's first ever novel. What must it feel like to create something so beautiful and poignant the very first time you write, knowing that you have written something that will resonate with the reader long after they have put it down? The Septembers of Shiraz is a beautiful beautiful book about the repercussions of dissipated rule, revolution and blood lust on an entire nation.

Isaac Amin, a Jewish jeweller in Tehran finds his world thrown upside down all in one afternoon when he is arrested by the revolutionary guards, wrongly accused of being a spy. He leaves behind in Tehran, his wife Farnaz and his nine year old daughter Shirin. His son Parviz is stuck in New York studying architecture, cut off from his family. The book alternates among the perspectives of all four in the Amin family: how they deal with the arrest of Isaac, how the revolution has affected their lives, their past, their present, the stigma of having lived well under the Shah's rule.

For Isaac, there is the soul debilitating experience of prison, reflections of his past, worries about his family, his regrets for having allowed his marriage to get into a rut, his rediscovered, almost desperate love for his wife and longing for his children. For Farnaz, there is her missing husband, the empty house with the huge gardens and pool that suddenly seize to mean anything, a young daughter in the house with haunted eyes and her son struggling without money in another country. Farnaz doesn't touch the cognac anymore, what she is going through now is not loneliness, but fear for the man that had let herself forget how to love. For Parviz, there is the alienation from the only land he's ever known and an as yet ever present feeling of alienation in the land he is in. Parviz is lonely, hungry, cold, living in a basement, cannot pay rent or the grocery bill and misses his family to distraction. He is unhappy, unsure of his place in the world. And finally, there is little Shirin: what does Shirin know about the seriousness of what has happened to her father? Maybe everything. Children observe way much more than they sometimes let on. Shirin misses the normalcy in her life, her mother is distracted with worry, her little world has become topsy-turvy and to top everything off, what about the illicit activities Shirin has been engaging herself in without any realization whatsoever about the magnitude of it all? The four of them, though separated physically find their thoughts circling each other constantly and in that, rediscover the love and bond that their family, any family for that matter, must share. It was wonderful to read the book through the eyes of four different characters at once. Underlying everything, is one strong emotion: a sense of bewilderment at the fast disappearance of the only Iran they have known and loved, a sense of fear for the unknown.

The Septembers of Shiraz is one of those quietly moving books that showcase civil strife purely from a domesticated perspective. The ultimate victim after all, in any difficulty, is the human spirit. How does it recover? Recover it must, for all of them. The Amins must leave Iran and their lives behind, escape to Turkey and eventually make their way to New York to their son. What of the land they leave behind? If you read the book, in the end, you will also be able to picture them sitting somewhere in Turkey, smell the grilled fish with lemons and see snapshots of the Caspian Sea in Isaac's head. Homeland. And he must leave it, perhaps forever. The book however, ends on a positive note: they can rebuild a future anywhere, as long as they are together.

P.S - Hey all! It's good to be back here. I have been crazy busy at work and I apologize for the lack of time I have given this blog and also for the lapse of visits to blogs I read. Sorry! I shall get to it as soon as I can! In this time, I read a ton of books though, and shall put up posts as quickly as I can :)

9 comments:

Suko said...

What a great review of this lovely-looking book! My favorite line is: "The ultimate victim after all, in any difficulty, is the human spirit." Very well said.

Bedazzled said...

seems like an interesting read...

Kals said...

I'm glad you are back and with a great review :) This isn't my type of book, but reading the review was enjoyable! And the book cover is great.

Birdy said...

I keep seeing this book each time I go to my favorite bookstore and each time something makes me keep it back. Now I know I will pick it up next time :)

thevanishinglake said...

This sounds fantastic & I definitely want to read it. I know what you mean about really sophisticated debut novels - I was amazed in this way by Sadie Jones, The Outcast. Thanks for the interesting review!

Shweta said...

My book has a different cover :) but I liked the book too. Not so much the theme as much as the writing. I thought Sofer did a great job at prose.

bikerguy said...

Just one word - "Brilliant" :)
Good job :):)

Booksnyc said...

great review! I have this book on my shelf and your review has inspired me to move it up on the TBR list!

Vaishnavi said...

@Suko - Thanks a lot:) I am sure you will love this book, you should give it a try :)

@Bedazzled - Hi after a long time :) Yeah it is...you should try it..

@Birdy - I shall be glad if this review makes you pick this book up :)

@thevanishinglake - You are absolutely welcome! I'll check out the book you have mentioned too :)

@Shweta - Sofer did a fantastic job at the prose :) and stories with such themes interest me, so that was another bonus :)

@Avi - eee thanks :)

@Booksync - Welcome here! I am glad if this review makes you read this book faster :)