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Caspian Rainby Gina Nahai
"Like drops of acid, Gina Nahai's words burn the pages of this moving novel about the fate of women in prerevolutionary Iran. This Iranian American writer...conjures up resilient women contending with a society in transition." Nasrin Rahimieh, Ms. Magazine (read the entire Ms. Magazine review)
Synopses & Reviews
From the best-selling author of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, a stirring, lyrical tale that offers American readers unique insight into the inner workings of Iranian society.
In the decade before the Islamic Revolution, Iran is a country on the brink of explosion. Twelve-year-old Yaas is born into an already divided family: Her father is the son of wealthy Iranian Jews who are integrated into the country's upper-class, mostly Muslim elite; her mother was raised in the slums of South Tehran, one street away from the old Jewish ghetto.
Yaas spends her childhood navigating the many layers of Iranian society. Her task, already difficult because of the disparity in her parents' worldview, becomes all the more critical when her father falls in love with a beautiful woman from a noble Muslim family. As her parents' marriage begins to crumble and the country moves ever closer to revolution, Yaas is plagued by a mysterious and terrifying illness. But despite her ailment, when she learns that her father is about to abandon her and her mother — to immigrate to America with his mistress — Yaas is determined to save herself and her family.
At once a cultural exploration of an as-yet-unfamiliar society and a psychological study of the effects of loss, Caspian Rain takes the reader inside the tragic and fascinating world of a brave young girl struggling against impossible odds.
"'In her stirring fourth novel, Nahai explores the struggles of an Iranian family in the tenuous decade before the Islamic revolution. Twelve-year-old Yaas narrates her family's story, beginning before her birth at her parents' unlikely meeting. Her mother, Bahar, lives in the Jewish slums with her less-than-respectable family — among them, 'a seamstress who can't sew,' 'a cantor who can't sing,' a Muslim convert and a ghost. Bahar's fortuitous encounter with Omid Arbab, the son of wealthy Iranian Jews, results in a marriage that quickly disintegrates, due to class pressures and Bahar's desire for a measure of independence. Yaas then embarks on what is, at times, an overly lyrical account of her difficult and lonely childhood. She senses that she is an unwelcome disappointment to her mother, whose behavior toward her daughter ranges from inattentive to cruel. When Omid becomes involved in a public affair with the wealthy and beautiful Niyaz and Yaas begins going deaf, the Arbab family spirals out of control. Despite a clunky subplot involving Bahar's ghost brother and a too-easy resolution, the novel is a poignant tale of a 'damaged family.' (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Caspian Rain,' the latest novel by Gina B. Nahai, is about divisions — between rich and poor, between East and West and between people who can and cannot feel. It begins about a decade before Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, with a proposal for a marriage that is doomed from the start. Omid is a young man from an elite Tehran Jewish family. He chooses Bahar, a working-class girl he meets on the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) street, because he senses that 'this is a girl who could be easily conquered, who would marry him in a heartbeat just because of who he is and what he can give her, who won't demand much — least of all, emotions.' He's right. Bahar marries him because she has always dreamed of a prince who will whisk her off to a better life. But both become trapped in the loveless union. Omid finds an out when he falls for another woman, while Bahar has no escape. The story is narrated by their only child, Yaas, an introverted girl whose encroaching hearing loss is directly related to the fraying of her parents' marriage. For the characters in this book, deep feelings are a hazard. By the end the only people not destroyed are those who don't feel much: We are told that the emotionally stunted Omid (whose name, ironically, means 'hope') finally experiences passion with Niyaz, his lover, but we never get inside his head to see it. Of Niyaz, who grew up neglected by her wealthy family, we know that she is tired of moving around and that she doesn't like the Iranian tendency to do everything in family packs, but we never learn what she feels for Omid. She is beautiful but wooden — a good match for him. The crux of the story and of the relentless pain that imbues this book lie with Yaas and Bahar. Bahar tries to fight the disappointments of her marriage: When her husband forbids her to finish school, she tries to defy him; when her rival's high-end hairdresser denies her an appointment, she forces her way in; when Omid starts to tell her he is leaving, she refuses to let him speak; and she ignores her daughter's hearing problem in the hope that it will just go away. But her family's belief that 'you hide your losses and try to prevent greater ones' doesn't work for her. Yaas, for her part, craves love and acceptance from parents too wrapped up in their own problems to provide it. She clings to impossible hopes — that some miracle will reunite her family, restore her hearing, turn her into something lovable. Like Bahar, she tries to twist reality into something different and fails. Nahai deftly creates the smells and daily routines of an old Tehran neighborhood. The family maid paints on a fake beauty mark, pours perfume on her chest and dons a sheer chador to go down the street to meet her lover. Yaas climbs a tree in the garden and fills up on mulberries that leave her hands sticky. The author also relishes the horrible and the creepy. Bahar's family includes a sister whose husband regularly beats her and locks her in a pigeon coop and a brother killed in a traffic accident whose ghost, in an old shirt and rotting shoes, haunts the family. Omid's family is so concerned with propriety that it makes them almost grotesquely cruel. Neighbors include mysterious Nazis, a half-mad victim of the Shah's torture chambers who steals the hair from dead virgins and a middle-aged shoe salesman/wannabe rock star who wears his shirts half unbuttoned over his thickening waist and carries on with Bahar's feisty Kurdish maid. It is a colorful cast of quirky characters. When everyone is quirky, however — crazy, depressed, suicidal, heartless — it can be hard to identify with anyone. We are meant to sympathize with Yaas, who for much of the book clings to the belief that, despite the crumbling lives around her, things will get better. But as her uncle says early on, 'You can hope all you want. It doesn't mean you're going to win.' Yaas finally gives up, too, and commits an extreme act of destruction that is foreshadowed throughout the book. This idea of a single wrong move — in this case, the marriage — irredeemably poisoning everything around it may feel familiar to readers from Iran, where fixation on past tragedies is something of a national hobby, reflected in everything from people's political beliefs to their taste in movies. But the novel's relentless despair may be harder for Westerners to relate to. Even the family's garden starts to die and no amount of watering can save it. In the end the callous characters are the only ones left unscathed. The rest burn, rot or dry up as hope fades away." Reviewed by Tara Bahrampour, who is a Washington Post staff writer and the author of 'To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Nahai's poetic and cathartic drama speaks for all silenced women, for all who are tyrannized." Booklist
"Nahai's alluring poetic style draws us into the lives of her female characters…captivating prose...a powerful testament to Iranian women's fight against oppression." Ms. Magazine
"Filled with hope and despair, Caspian Rain is Nahai's most emotional and inspiring novel yet. Nahai's heroine — the inspired and inspiring Yaas — learns the lessons of obedience, subservience, and forbearance, and then chooses a surprising and unexpected path." Lisa See, author of Peony in Love and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
"Unexpected and heartrending, but also witty, elegiac, sophisticated and edgy. Caspian Rain is a beautiful book." Chris Abani, author of Graceland and The Virgin of Flames
"In Caspian Rain, Gina Nahai writes with subtlety and grace about the unappeasable forces of culture, class and family which shape the life of a young girl growing up in Jewish Tehran before the mullahs." Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black
"Caspian Rain once more proves Gina B. Nahai's ability to create through her wonderfully lyrical prose a fictional world that, while rooted in a particular culture and history, is universally relevant and appealing." Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran
"[A] beautiful study in disappointment and ineffable loss, in the conflict between duty and desire." Los Angeles Times
"Nahai's story gives colorful narrative to the cultural forces at play in the years leading up to the arrival of Islamic fundamentalism in this most misunderstood country." Chicago Sun-Times
"This lyrical and literary novel is beautifully written but relentlessly sad." USA Today
About the Author
Gina Nahai is the best-selling author of Sunday's Silence, Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith (finalist for the Orange Prize), and Cry of the Peacock. She is also a contributing author to The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt, which won the 2005 Jewish Book Award. Her novels have been translated into sixteen languages and have been studied at a wide variety of educational establishments. Nahai's writings have appeared in many national publications and she has been a judge for the LA Times Book Awards. She is also a frequent lecturer on the politics of the Middle East and has guest hosted on NPR. She is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Southern California.
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