The Septembers Of Shiraz Hardcover – Jul 12 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Sofer's family escaped from Iran in 1982 when she was 10, an experience that may explain the intense detail of this unnerving debut. On a September day in 1981, gem trader Isaac Amin is accosted by Revolutionary Guards at his Tehran office and imprisoned for no other crime than being Jewish in a country where Muslim fanaticism is growing daily. Being rich and having had slender ties to the Shah's regime magnify his peril. In anguish over what might be happening to his family, Isaac watches the brutal mutilation and executions of prisoners around him. His wife, Farnaz, struggles to keep from slipping into despair, while his young daughter, Shirin, steals files from the home of a playmate whose father is in charge of the prison that holds her father. Far away in Brooklyn, Isaac's nonreligious son, Parviz, struggles without his family's money and falls for the pious daughter of his Hasidic landlord. Nicely layered, the story shimmers with past secrets and hidden motivations. The dialogue, while stiff, allows the various characters to come through. Sofer's dramatization of just-post-revolutionary Iran captures its small tensions and larger brutalities, which play vividly upon a family that cannot, even if it wishes to, conform. (Aug.)
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Sofer's enlightening debut opens with the 1981 arrest of Isaac Amin, a Jewish businessman in Iran accused of being a Zionist spy. His arrest was not unexpected. Isaac has seen neighbors and family members disappear and knows the remnants of the shah's entouragebusinessmen and communist rebels alikeare seen as enemies by the Revolutionary Guards. Sofer illuminates the horrific details of Isaac's months in prison and deftly captures how that experience affects the rest of his familyhis wife and daughter Shirin at home and son Parviz in New York, where he has quickly fallen from son of a wealthy man to starving shop boy. In the midst of their depressing circumstances, the author nestles small jewels of hope, like the delivery of leftovers by the wife of Parviz's landlord, or the repaired shoes, picked up weeks late by Shirin, waiting patiently for Isaac's feet to fill them once again. Sofer herself emigrated from postrevolutionary Iran to New York, and her debut resonates with the empathy derived from that journey. Donovan, DeborahSee all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Her descriptions are so illustrative and engage all of the senses, whether she's describing an old man's "wrinkled voice" or Shirin's irritation at wearing a head scarf, imagining "there are tiny elves inside ... crumpling paper against her ears all day long." The memories of coming in from swimming where "they would gather around the kitchen table smelling of soap and chlorine, and eat cherries picked that morning from the garden, just washed and dripping in the sieve." Even in prison, her sentences resonate with a beauty that is thought-provoking. " For most people, she (Farnaz) thinks, the notion of death is no more than a wallpaper - present but rarely seen. Prisoners, who have little to distract them, have no choice but to stare at this wallpaper".
Sofer tells her characters' stories with deceptive simplicity. Every member of the Amin family has significantly different experiences in the book but each attains a memorable depth and reality. She represents each of their grief and suffering as valid even as held up against the immeasurable suffering of the father in prison. Although their individual and familial crises are of the greatest urgency and seriousness, "The Septembers of Shiraz" is wonderfully light in its touch, and delicate as a book about suffering can be.
The story was well written and did tug on a lot of emotions while reading. Isaac's time in prison was filled with despair and you could feel his hope fading away as he counts the days of his time spent there. The book was filled with close calls, and immediate suspicion among characters as to who's playing the role of informant. As a reader, you could really feel Shirin's tension and fright over being exposed for what she's done.
I wasn't sure what to make on the separate story arc on Parviz. It was interesting as he was struggling with his own identity, yet I felt that it wasn't as interesting as the main story arc that was taking place in Iran. I felt as if that story arc was added just for the sake of adding more to the plot.
Overall, the story is beautifully written and emotional. There is an inkling of hope at the end of the novel and the reader is only left with wonder at the outcome of the characters in the book. I do recommend others to read this book. There's not many you see that takes place in Iran in this particular time in history.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Particularly notable are Sofer's efforts to portray the ideology of Amin's captors and their sympathizers and to give them a chance to speak for themselves. She does not countenance political murder, religious repression, or anti-semitism, far from it, and her sympathies are with the oppressed; but she does give her villains a voice. Why are some people the masters and some the servants? Was the Iranian upper class complicit in the repression conducted by the shah's goons before his overthrow? These are some of the questions that she asks and these help give the book considerable nuance.
I would have given this book five stars, but the ending failed to satisfy the emotional build-up of the previous 100 pages. The book seemed to peter out rather than to end in a meaningful way.
While Isaac is left in a dank cell with other men, all to be systematically interrogated, he ponders the viability of ever leaving this place, let alone surviving the increasingly brutal interrogation techniques used to obtain the desired responses form the prisoners. Daily he listens to the firing squads, the moans from fellow prisoners who have been tortured and the muezzin's call to prayer. Regretting that he could not inform his wife, Farnaz, of his dire circumstances, Amin looks inward, revisiting the early days of their marriage, before they became careless of the relationship. Learning of her husband's fate, Farnaz is thrust into despair, fighting the depression that overwhelms her whenever she considers life without Isaac, navigating the days as if a sleepwalker.
Nine-year-old Shirin is told at first that her father is on an extended trip; but she is aware of her mother's anguish and seeks to alleviate Farnaz' pain by hoarding her own fears, hiding files she has stolen from the home of a friend whose father works for the Revolutionary Guards. Meanwhile, Parviz, the son attending college in New York, battles his own intense isolation in the city, waiting for money from home that never arrives. In coded phone calls, Parviz understands that his father is in jeopardy, the future uncertain. Each family member endures this painful isolation, existing in a sort of stasis, unsure how to resolve their dilemma, escaping the frightening circumstances of their days by remembering softer, kinder times, the Septembers of Shiraz.
The very fabric of their lives destroyed by the revolution, Isaac is inextricably tied to the shah's regime; there is literally no future for this family save escape. It is that painful truth that so defines the daily activities of each: Isaac's delivery into the hands of his torturers, desperate to avoid the fate of his fellow prisoners; Farnaz' gradual acceptance of a future without the luxuries she has long taken for granted, vaguely threatened but unable to take action; Shirin's theft of the dossiers that may bring swift and brutal repercussions to her doorstep; the once-loyal house servant who makes increasingly critical judgments of her employers and may be a spy; and Parviz' longing for family connections far from those he loves. Balancing the brutality of revolution with one family's fragile hopes, Sofer illustrates the chaos and fear of a world turned upside down, the Amin's driven to seek safety far from home. Luan Gaines/2007.
The story centers on a Iranian Jewish family living in post-revolutionary Iran (1981). Isaac, the father, is a gemologist with a successful business. His life and that of his family is turned upside down when he unexpectedly arrested by the Revolutionary Guard and taken to prison. There Amin is physically, mentally and emotionally tortured for a confession about being a traitor and his connection to the deposed regime of the former Shah.
Meanwhile, Isaac's family, Farnaz (wife), Shirin (9 year old daughter) and Parviz (college student living in Brookly) struggle to cope with the imprisonment of Isaac. Sofer wonderfully captures the hopes, fears and challenges each of them face through their distinctively different perspectives and situations. Sofer does a wonderful job going far beyond the expected stereotypes to paint the complex nature of human relationships -- how these relationships exist in times of "peace" and how they exist in times of turmoil. Especially powerful is Sofer's exploration of Farnaz's relationship with their housekeeper Habibeh. Her son used to work for Amin and is now part of the Revolutionary Guard.
"Septembers of Shiraz" causes us to reflect on several sweeping themes -- how complicitous is an individual who benefits from a situation without directly supporting that underlying situation? Is it possible for power not to corrupt those when they go from ruled to ruler? What is one's connection to country vs. religion?
Sofer's writing is truly captivating. She writes with a simplicity and sense of confidence that is quite unique for a first time novelist. While she creates well rounded portraits of her characters, she really excels when dealing with the inter-relationships of those characters. Also, with very few exceptions, she does not cross over into the predictable.
Overall, this is one of the most compelling and satisfying books that I have read this year. I certainly hope that more people discover this book and get to enjoy a promising new literary voice.