Tag Archives: Iran

The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza

Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453503
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.

The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.

Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi Title: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-0812979305
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had wanted to read this book since a very long time. In fact, at one point I even read it till about hundred pages and then just gave it up. Perhaps the time was not right. There are books that need to be read only when you are ready for them and at that time I wasn’t. “Reading Lolita in Tehran” came back to me around a while ago. I had to pick up another copy and start afresh and I did. I now completely see that I was right for it at this time than earlier.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books” is about Azar Nafisi and the classes she taught in her home in Tehran once she quit the university of Tehran. It is not only about this though. It is not about the books they read because they could not read them freely and talk about them. The book goes deeper than that – it is about the Islamic revolution in Iran and how that impacted the lives of women when the Ayatollah came to power.

The author, now living in the US speaks of two decades in Iran as a teacher of American and English literature and how Iran changed drastically after the fall of the Shah. The transformation of Iran is charted through the eyes of the women who come to her house and they learn literature and compare their lives to it, thereby raising pertinent questions. For me this book was an eye-opener of what goes on outside my comfort zone and how in the long run it will impact all of us, whether we see it coming or not.

The insights from the books and parallel to lives are stupendously reached at and just for that I would so strongly recommend this book. The language is simple and yet at times it gets political but that is also because the book is about that and how art imitates life and vice-versa. It is about the relationships she has as a teacher with her students and also as a friend and extending it beyond to knowing who they truly are. All of this happens because of books.

Nafisi’s world is both real and fictitious and with her, so are her students’ lives. You get a glimpse and more about each story and how books shape them at the end of it all. The book is about fiction’s strength to empathize and deal with daily situations, more so when you live in a society that refuses to grant you your rights and there are restrictions at every step.

“Reading Lolita in Tehran” invites all readers to see life differently and to relate them to what you read and how it impacts you on a daily basis. I could not stop reading this one and I regret waiting this long to read it but all said and done it is a book which is not to be missed out on. Better late than never, right?

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi Title: The Complete Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Random House USA
ISBN: 9780375714832
Genre: Graphic Novel, Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 341
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I always thought graphic novels were an easy read. At least, in my experience they always have been. Till I reread “The Complete Persepolis” and realized that it could get tough, rereading a graphic novel as well. “Persepolis” is a story which has so many layers to it.

“The Complete Persepolis” is the combination of two books – The story of a Childhood and the story of a Return. The story is of Marjane Satrapi (the author), growing up in war-torn Iran, from the Shah’s regime to the Ayatollah’s Iran, and finally living her life in Austria, till she returns home – only to see that things have only become worse.

The title of the book is taken from ancient Persia’s capital. “Persepolis” is autobiographical and hits the spot very hard. While it speaks of cultures and war and fundamentalism to a very large extent, it also draws on the concepts of alienation and the need to be home. I think this reread was in many ways most important for me, as I am away from home, so the connect was very strong. Perhaps not the same, given that I have not seen wars. But, nonetheless, one can empathize with Marjane and her family and her mental and emotional state.

The book doesn’t seek validation. Neither does it seek sympathy or empathy. It is just an honest account of life and how it goes through various stages and how sometimes in times of adversity, there is only humour and hope to live by. Marjane characterizes herself as an outsider, throughout the book. As a young girl, when her parents are revolting against the system to when she is an adult living in a different land, and when she is back in Iran to when she leaves for France for good.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is depicted truthfully through the black and white illustrations. My heart went out when people were executed for no fault and to think that people lived through all of that is something which you and I cannot even begin to imagine. The illustrations are stark and true, without any fluff or sugar-coating. “Persepolis” is a gem of a graphic novel – the kind that you do not forget at all and also the kind that you keep going back to time after time. Also, do watch the movie if you have not already. It is simply super.

Here is the trailer:

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Book Review: Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi

Title: Chicken with Plums
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon Books
ISBN: 9780375714757
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 85
Price: $12.95
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

In Chicken With Plums, Satrapi writes a biography of her great-uncle, the famous Iranian musician Nassar Ali Khan. When Khan’s tar breaks, he falls into a depression and lays in bed wishing for death for a week. At the end of that week, he dies (this isn’t a spoiler, it says so right at the beginning). Satrapi presents each day of his final week, with flashbacks to earlier parts of his life that lead up to his current predicament. Through these memories, we come to understand Khan’s heartbreak and his loss of will to live.

This is the third book by Satrapi I’ve read, after Persepolis and Embroideries, and it has earned its place at the top of the list. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the book, but as the narration twisted and I came to understand more about a lifetime of frustrations, cyclical depression, and the outpouring of soul into music, I really empathized with Khan. Then, the end twisted around in a direction that I didn’t foresee at all, and I cried. It was beautiful. The love! The passion! The pain! Oh…and the artwork…so beautiful. The second to last panel, with the Angel of Death at the funeral, staring intently at a specific mourner – oh, it made me cry so much. It was such a lovely and heartwrenching book!

I really, really love Marjane Satrapi’s work. Each new book I read, I love more. She has such a sense of character. She can take a person and strip them down to their essentials in order to splash out a portrait of them on paper. By the end of each of these books, though they aren’t long and don’t take long to read, you really feel like you know the people she discusses. You know them as individuals and you recognize in them the people you know personally. It’s brilliant. If you haven’t read any of her work yet, I highly recommend that you do. It doesn’t really matter where you start – they’re all wonderful.