"The Septembers of Shiraz"

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

First, "The Septembers of Shiraz" isn't a book about wine. That was, I confess, a disappointment for a brief moment, but only a moment because I loved what this book is.

And what it is is one of the best first novels I've read in a long while. Dalia Sofer writes beautifully, with a refreshing restraint usually found only in more experienced writers. Her maturity - her groundedness - is impressive and made for an unexpectedly good book.

The story is set amid the political and religious unrest of post-revolutionary Tehran, where fear has become a way of life for everyone. People disappear with no warning, then are killed or tortured in prisons. Homes and belongings are confiscated or destroyed in raids. The next knock on your door could destroy your life; no one is safe. 

Isaac Amin and his wife, Farnaz, have already sent their son, Parviz, to America to attend university, but they are stilling live in Tehran with their little girl, Shirin. They have a nice life: a beautiful home, expensive cars and enough money to travel when and where they choose, but in this new regime their wealth is a liability. They are suspect, and in Tehran that's a dangerous position to be in.   

Their story unfolds as chapters alternate between the points of view of the four family members. As I think back on it now, Parviz's story in New York had very little connection to what was happening to his family in Iran, but at the time I was reading it I didn't even notice that. I don't know why it didn't feel more disjointed but it seemed to work fine, with the alternating view points doing a good job of letting the reader experience the situation from all sides. 

The gravity of the Amins' situation and the horrors of life in Iran are clearly described and never made light of, but it is done with graceful subtlety. I often can't read terror or torture scenes that are horrifically detailed but this authour can present the truth without being gory or sensational. There is an elegance to her writing, a delicate touch that is a pleasure to read.

I loved this book. There's something about it that I can't shake, like a tune that gets inside your head and stays there for days. It's haunting (a badly overused word but I can think of none better in this situation), and it's beautiful. An interesting and informative read that I definitely recommend.


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