Posted by: Corri van de Stege | February 5, 2009

A book review – The Septembers of Shiraz

The Septembers of Shiraz – by Dalia Sofer (now out in paperback)

the-septembers-of-shiraz

In September Isaac Amin, his wife Farnaz and their daughter Shirin flee Iran. On their way, walking through the darkness across the border, Isaac thinks of the cities ahead of them, Ankara, Istanbul, Geneva, New York and then also of the cities behind him, Tehran, Ramsar, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz. He spent his youth in Shiraz, discovered poetry, the medieval poets Hafez and Sadi. Come September he would head back north to Tehran, but always, the Septembers of Shiraz held the promise of return, unlike this September when he flees his country for good.

The book relates the lives of Isaac, his imprisonment and torture under the Khomeini regime; of Farnaz, waiting, not knowing what is happening; of Shirin who in her own way tries to make sense of the changing world around her. There’s also Isaac’s son, sent to America before it was too late, and who is at odds with himself and with living in America, who does not fit in comfortably, is on the brink of poverty when his money is no longer coming through, but who is helped out by his landlord, a Hassidic Jew. He falls in love with the daughter, or at least thinks he does.

This is a beautiful and very well crafted story in which we follow the lives of the four members of this family as they struggle to make sense of what is happening to them individually but also to them as a family unit, and to the country in which they live and where they belong. It’s about sadness, loss and coming to terms.

This is Dalia Sofer’s first book and I loved it.  It’s mesmerising and reminded me so much of some of the aspects of living in Iran just prior to the revolution. It conjures up the way of life of middle class families who are neither very religious (whatever religion) nor very political but who are then forced into a corner, having to take sides where they don’t really want to. Farnaz remembers her own childhood, asking her father about being Jewish: ‘But don’t others think they are chosen also?’ Her father answers: ‘Every religion has its own beliefs, its own version of what happened.’

And so it is, it seems, people have their own interpretation of what it was like previously and what it is like now. There’s a power reversal and the Amins are helpless victims, as so many others. This is what revolutions do to people, and then in the end, there’s nothing left but to leave.

I will reread this book, several times, I think. Another one that I greatly recommend, even if at times you feel that all the creative writing rules have been followed carefully. The fact is that Sofer has great linguistic skills, she uses the language like poetry and is able to conjure up moods and unease and stillness and memories with just a couple of strokes of her pen. Great writing.

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Responses

  1. I’ve been considering reading this, now I will have to! It will fit in with my planned reading of Azar Nafisi’s new book.

  2. I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time already (and I don’t really know why I never read it before), but after your glowing review I will definitely try and find it. It’s been too long. Thank you!

  3. Devotedreader: Azar Nafisi’s Thing I’ve been silent about has not been published yet in England – I also look forward to reading that. You will really enjoy The Septembers of Shiraz, I’m sure!
    Myrthe: yes, definitely!

  4. So true that every religion has its own truth. It’s no use to argue. My visit to the national mosque in Kuala Lumpur exposed how my predisposition of Islamic faith had been tainted by media and stereotype.

    I read Find Nouf, which sets in Saudi Arabia, last year. The bookseller then recommended this book to me. I’ll give it a go as you have recommended it. 🙂


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