Writing: 5/5 Characters: 5/5 Plot: 5/5
I loved this character and culture driven drama about an extended Iranian American family post the 1979 Islamic revolution. The characters have depth and nuance that take them far beyond the obvious stereotypes that could describe each of them: the family patriarch, the obedient wife, the rebellious daughter, the faithful family retainer. The depictions are honest — no clear heroes or victims, no melodramatic righteous rage — just people finding their way while blending an inherited traditional culture with the modern practices of their new home.
The language is powerful but never manipulative, and the stories feel real. Moral dilemmas — with no clearly correct solutions — abound, and the frank and straightforward discussions of some of them — perceived racism, roles for women, infidelity, etc. — are captivating. I loved the way immigrants were depicted as individuals, each with their own backstory, set of initial circumstances, and eventual integration paths — none following the same script. Also — one of the best first lines I’ve read in a long while.
Set in the late 1990s and taking place in New Jersey and San Francisco. Great for fans of “Of a Place For Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza. Highly recommended!
“Espresso and anxiety — well behaved on their own, rambunctious as urchins together.”
“Mitra, on the other hand, had once told a flirtatious union official that if he didn’t smell like a sewer in non ninety-degreee weather, she might consider thanking him for staring blatantly at her breasts. Another time, Mitra told the mayor’s secretary — a consistently rude person — to call after her PMS was over.”
“Anahita had innately understood that it was a traditional woman’s responsibility to refract unwanted male attention, a concept Mitra once denounced as a direct offshoot of the idea of hejab, invented and perpetuated by men who didn’t want to take responsibility for their own lust.”
“I also had a difficult father. Some people cannot abandon their misery. Mitra studied him. His face was drawn, his mouth pulled down either end. ‘Is that how you justify their behaviour?’ ‘No, it is how I keep from hating them. Hate takes too much energy.’ ”
“This was the dynamic, false though it was on its face. Mitra tried to see Akram the way Julian did. ‘She’s just confused, Mitra. Wouldn’t you be? She’s never known anything different. We have to teach her.’ Mitra hates those lines; they sounded like something from a Kipling story about the civilized enlightening the natives. As if the Western world was devoid of poor, uneducated, and bitter people.”
“Surely someone had reminded her of this fact: that few people escaped the tragedy of senseless death, that suffering had no purpose, no meaning, no justification. But she hadn’t heard, hadn’t listened. Until now. Why now? She didn’t know. It didn’t matter. She got it.”
“This is what I’m explaining, Shireen. You came to America, and while you were here, Iran moved forward. After the Kennedys invited the Shah and Farah to visit America, the rush to reform was on. Not only did the landscape change — the buildings and roads and modern conveniences — but also the people, the culture. Even the traditional families couldn’t ignore the excitement of it — the opportunities for prosperity, technology, for resistance against Soviet influence.”
“Mitra squinted at the tube of the jetway and spotted her mother between the hulking arms of two businessmen, their suit bags hanging off their shoulders like slaughtered game.”
“Perhaps she’d seen too many TV talk shows where women displayed their mistakes and misfortunes as if they were wares on a blanket at the bazaar. Or perhaps she knew now that so few outcomes in life could be controlled.”
“The mere fact of their abandonment was a stigma, a curse almost, that prevented them from being wanted by anyone. They came from bad stock, from people in such dire straits or lacking such humanity and sense of goodness that they could abandon their own offspring.”
“Those were the days when she didn’t want to have much to do with her parent’s culture, which prized opaque symbolism excessively. The harder a person had to work to discover hidden meanings, the higher its value.”
Thank you to Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on January 3rd, 2023.