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The Septembers of Shiraz (P.S.)by Dalia Sofer
Septembers of Shiraz describes the journey, both psychological and physical, of a Jewish family whose father is imprisoned in the first years of revolutionary Iran. It is a beautifully written expose of the trauma that occurs to individuals when there are huge political shifts — from the father's experience in prison to his ten-year-old daughter's participation in a birthday party, no facet of life is untouched by the seismic changes.
Synopses & Reviews
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappear-ance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known.
As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches for him, suspecting, all the while, that their once-trusted housekeeper has turned on them and is now acting as an informer. And as his daughter, in a childlike attempt to stop the wave of baseless arrests, engages in illicit activities, his son, sent to New York before the rise of the Ayatollahs, struggles to find happiness even as he realizes that his family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
A page-turning literary debut, The Septembers of Shiraz simmers with questions of identity, alienation, and love, not simply for a spouse or a child, but for all the intangible sights and smells of the place we call home.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The early 1980s in Iran were frightening for anyone caught in the crossfire. As Islamic factions asserted dominance over other groups that had helped bring down the shah, thousands of Iranians were rounded up and accused of being monarchists, communists, Western intellectuals or Freemasons; of listening to the wrong music, wearing the wrong clothes or being related to the wrong people. Many were tortured... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and executed. 'The Septembers of Shiraz,' Dalia Sofer's gripping first novel, tells the story of one such arrest. The book opens on Sept. 20, 1981, when a Jewish jeweler named Isaac Amin is drinking tea in his Tehran office. Two men with rifles seize him, put him on a motorcycle and drive him into a surreal and terrifying world. The story alternates among Isaac in the infamous Evin prison, his wife and daughter in their Tehran neighborhood, and his son, an architectural student living in Brooklyn. As the narrative shifts between each person's internal struggles, the emotional impact increases. We don't feel just Isaac's dread and confusion but also his wife's guilt for being annoyed with him the night before his arrest, and for years before it; we also feel their daughter's panicked attempts to salvage the worsening situation. Sofer's own father was imprisoned in Evin and, like Isaac, falsely accused of being a Zionist spy; the family fled Iran in 1982, when she was 10. Her descriptions of prison and exile ring true: Isaac feels not only afraid but also embarrassed at being arrested; when a child sees Isaac blindfolded in the street and asks his mother what he has done wrong, Isaac worries that people are 'chattering about him by their doorways and windows.' Meanwhile, his son, safe but lonely in New York, realizes that 'people here still live with that sense of permanence he once felt when strolling by the Caspian Sea ... the kind of trust that comes only from having a place in one's bones.' Sofer skillfully depicts the post-revolution era's subtle shifts of balance between social classes, the new ways in which people must lie to survive and the constant specter of political denunciation from anyone with a personal grudge. Some characters may sound familiar to Americans: the wealthy Iranians who cling to the shah's glittering coattails and worship Yves Saint Laurent, the vengeful revolutionaries seeking payback for the old regime's injustices. But Sofer also introduces us to more nuanced and conflicted ones: the revolutionary teenager made to suffer terribly for throwing paint on a mullah, the communist persecuted by those he helped bring to power, the maid unsure whether her relationship with her employer has been exploitive or nurturing, the rich man who sees flaws in the shah's regime even as he profits from it. Like 'Persepolis,' Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir about the same period in Iran, this book's strength lies partly in Sofer's ability to characterize Iranians in any epoch: the obsession with saving face, the moments of sweetness between strangers, the interplay between Muslims and Jews that can be ugly or tender. 'The Septembers of Shiraz' shows what happens when a society is abruptly reordered and ordinary people — a housewife, a child at a birthday party, employees in a shop — behave in ways they'd never considered. Isaac Amin and his family are not ultra-religious or particularly political. They are secular Jews in a Muslim country, but they are also Iranians, and they feel more at home in Iran than their son does in Crown Heights, where he rents a room from a Hasidic family. To this boy who has grown up with girlfriends in bikinis by his pool, the world of kosher chocolate and modest women is as unfamiliar as revolutionary Iran is to his parents, and, in its restrictions and watchfulness, it contains some similar elements. But it also provides a comforting old-world community that can be hard to find in America. Sofer's prose is lyrical and sometimes haunting. The day after the arrest, Isaac's wife imagines the city carrying on as usual, unaware that it is 'short by one man this morning.' She later recalls photographs of the shah's ministers in a morgue, 'naked, like mice in a testing laboratory — an experiment gone bad.' And Sofer's depiction of Evin prison was particularly chilling to read this summer, as several Iranian Americans languished there without clear charges. The plot wraps up a bit too neatly when a timely intervention takes care of some incriminating material, and the author occasionally inserts into characters' mouths history lessons that might have sounded more natural in their heads. But these are quibbles. 'The Septembers of Shiraz' rises above being an ethnic novel about an intriguing place. It does not exoticize the Middle East or focus unduly on tempting targets such as women being forced to cover themselves or the persecution of Jews. These things exist, but they are part of a panoply of strangeness wrought upon everyone regardless of religion, gender or class. Instead, the book is about how people, in any country, live mostly without thinking about the political implications of their choices, and how they are taken by surprise when revolution or war crashes in. And how, even after the soul searching and the questions about whether they have led their lives the right way, they still care mostly about family, work, love and money. They are still, in the end, themselves." Reviewed by Tara Bahrampour, 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)
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"This is a story that needs to be told, as a reminder of how political and religious ideologies can destroy individuals, families, and societies… The family and political issues raised in the book are timely and ripe for discussion." Library Journal (starred review)
"The Septembers of Shiraz is one of the most beautiful first novels I've ever come across. Dalia Sofer courageously takes on ambitious topics — political upheaval in Iran, imprisonment, religion, and betrayal — and handles them with the skills of a master story-teller. Sofer's writing is full of well-observed details, compassion, and most importantly, hope. It is a rare book in a rare genre: the family love story." Vendela Vida
"Sofer paints a complicated picture of postrevolutionary Iran... [A] powerful story honestly told." Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
"In this fickle literary world, it's impossible to predict whether Sofer's novel will become a classic, but it certainly stands a chance.... The Septembers of Shiraz is miraculously light in its touch, as beautiful and delicate as a book about suffering can be." Clare Messud, The New York Times
"One initially fears that The Septembers of Shiraz will amount to an unremitting catalog of misery, but Ms. Sofer is more subtle than that." Wall Street Journal
"Sofer herself emigrated from post-revolutionary Iran to New York, and her debut resonates with the empathy derived from that journey." Booklist
"[Sofer]...seems wise beyond her years, and her prose, sturdy always, sometimes offers us consolation we weren't aware we needed even as we grasp it with both hands." Chicago Tribune
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. As Isaac navigates the terrors of prison, and his wife feverishly searches for him, his children struggle with the realization that their family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
About the Author
Dalia Sofer was born in Iran and fled at the age of ten to the United States with her family. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been a resident at Yaddo. A graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, she lives in New York City.
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