First sentence: ‘When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.’
Isaac Amin is arrested by the Revolutionary Guards for nothing more than being a wealthy businessman and a Jew. While Isaac struggles to survive interrogations for months in one of Iran’s worst prisons, his wife searches for him and tries not to give up hope, their ten-year-old daughter is forced to transition to a new school where her friends and classmates are all the children of Revolutionary Guards, and their son, at university in New York City, copes as best as he can with the uncertainty of his family, his religion, and his identity.
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer is a quiet, unassuming and poignantly written account of one family’s experience during the Iranian Revolution in the 1980s. Each family member’s story is as interesting as the other’s — Sofer easily could have reveled in the description of Isaac in prison, but her restraint makes his time there all the more stark and bleak. The account of his wife, Farnouz, and of his daughter Shirin, as they search for him and keep their lives going in Tehran as best they can are not any less compelling for being ‘mundane’. And Parviz, sent away to a far off country so he wouldn’t be drafted into the army, his story remains relevant even though he could be said to be living a completely different life so isolated from his family. The four stories interweave and enhance each other; you cannot have one without the other, or if you did, the story would be incomplete.
I must admit, I do not know much about the Iranian Revolution. Truth be told, I picked up The Septembers of Shiraz because its spine looks an awful lot like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, one of my all-time favourite books. I appreciate novels like The Septembers of Shiraz for bringing to life periods of time and history that are unknown to me, especially recent history. I am reminded of Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi, Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferraris, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham, each offering a glimpse of a piece of history.
What novels have helped dramatise history for you?