The Septembers of Shiraz Paperback – May 9 2008
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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.
Isaac Amin, a gem dealer in Tehran, who has pulled himself up from a very modest slums of Khoramshahr, a southern oil district of Iran, to the wealthy upper class Tehran's society, is arrested shortly after the Revolution. His son, who is studying in New York, his wife, a vocalist, and his young daughter, are devastated and overwhelmed by the sudden changes for which they were unprepared.
Even though the story is related in the third person, I still have the impression that Shirin, then nine years old, is telling us a true story long after she and her family landed safely in the United States. I think the author in her interviews reinforced this impression, though I'm not sure that she intended to.
There are three distinct settings in the novel: jail, where Amin is, the family home in Tehran, where Farnaz and Shirin (Amin's wife and daughter) are living, and New York City, where Parviz (Amin and Farnaz's older son) studies. The most vivid description of these lives is the Amin's jail experience, which stands out among them. Next to his life in jail comes Parviz's life in New York, which we learn more about. Farnaz and her daughter are notably ignored until the last chapter of the book, in which we feel their presence when they are given the best seats in the front of the truck over the boarder to Turkey. Amin had made sure to pay extra for their safety and comfort.
The book's blurb says, "The September of Shiraz simmers with questions of identity, alienation, and love, not just for a spouse or a child (the father is the protagonist of the story) but for the unnameable, uncountable sights and sounds of the places we call home." If this novel is about love and identity, it was totally lost to me. While it has just a casual acquaintance with love, it has much more to say about the pain, though of a particular kind. It is about the abuse of human rights, arrest, confiscation, torture, bribing, smuggling, corruption, and lawlessness. It is the recording of pain in the solitude of jail, where colorlessness and hopelessness cast a deeper shadow on pain and turn it into a horror. Those of us who have had dear ones in and out of Evin Prison know very well how daring it is to learn about the pain and suffering there. As far as I know, those who have experience it don't voluntarily sharing it either. Dalia Sofer, with amazing courage, dares to look into this abyss and freezes everything into words; delightfully, she does it without rage or anger.
The book was a tribute to the pain and suffering of those whose suffering was not in retribution for their wrongdoings, but merely to their slipping into the wrong side of life by sheer chance. It is a heartbreaking tale of a man who happens to fall out of favor when society goes through changes. Amin's suffering in jail is the most elaborate and the most vivid part of the book. It is the life in those smelly, blood-smeared, insect-infested, moldy cells, smeared with blood cells which works on our heart, rather than those outside of the cell, except for those breath-taking pages when Shirin is steals some files and again when she buries them in the garden.
In contrasted to Amin's experiences in his enforced solitude, which comes to us so sharply and vividly, Farnaz's experience is passed over. Even her identity remains obscure to the reader. There is not even one incident in the book in which a friend visits her or any occasion for her to visit anyone. There are no Sabbath dinners with friends or relatives, no friends calling, no one dropping by; she is all alone while Amin is in jail.
Though the book is about suffering, there is none of the Farnaz's pain depicted in it. Given the impression I have regarding the story's point of view, I'm puzzled by the absence of Farnaz and the indifferences of the author to her.
New York City gives life a better chance to display itself. We know more about Parviz than Farnaz and Shirin. Since the book was published in the United States, we need something for the local reader to connect to. But that aside, a parallel runs through the story, if not a connection. Briefly, Parviz, adopted by a Hasidic family, discovers how unyielding is the space between connection and interruption. One false move, one misspoken word, and you find yourself on the wrong side of things.
It is this thin wall which is the most frightening aspect of our modern life, this unreliability and unpredictability, this living by chance, by a flip of the coin, this unexpected "all of a sudden" which turns Isaac Amin's life upside down and sends Parviz to the wrong side the wall. The only difference is that by pure luck, Parviz is better suited on the wrong side, but Isaac is not.
Clair Messud, in her very favorable review, holds out the hope that this book will become "a classic," alongside The Great Gatsby. But, there is a long way to go for the September of Shiraz to become a classic, for a novel in which two of its four characters do not find a chance to appear fully or even to develop at all and whose subplots have no connection to the main plot except through the blood relation. Why are we are in such a rush? The author is too young and has just started, it is her first novel. Let's do not go that far. It takes a bit more than one review in The New York Times to make any book a classic.
Yes, Sofir's story is very good for a novice writer. A work in the progress, I would call it. Let the story to be read and judged by its readers, and not friendly critic, and let's see if it withstands its readers' demands. Let's see if it answers reader's questions. Then, in due time, it will become a classic disregarding the capricious market.