Synopses & Reviews
An Iranian family struggles for redemption amid the twentieth-century conflicts between a medieval religion and a modernizing population, between emerging nationalism and foreign repression. An epic saga with iconic characters, cultural insights, and evocative historical details, The House That War Minister Built covers the Iranian experience from the end of the Qajar dynasty in the 1920s, into the post 9/11 era. The novel targets the market for high-quality epic fiction about Iran and Shiite Moslem culture in terms accessible to the West. At times tragic, at times humorous, The House That War Minister Built will appeal to readers with a thirst for novel cultural experiences and readers who want to learn while they enjoy..
A compelling family saga that spans nearly a century and paints a loving, true-to-life portrait of a nation.The Daytons novel is a deliciously complex patchwork quilt that weaves together the stories of Nargess, a long-lived and resilient matriarch, her nephew Javad, the clumsy attorney-cum-art student looking to marry, and her son-in-law Saeed, hesitantly returning home after years in exile. With these characters and others, the authors deliver the pieces of a gorgeous, decades-spanning family drama and, more crucially, the story of a nation Iran. By delivering this bevy of interlocking portraits, the authors paint an image of Persian life more vibrant and realistic than any single history.The book follows Nargess sprawling clan, and a supporting cast of dozens, through nearly 90 years of Iranian collective life. From the country s early modern history under British hegemony, through the time of the shah, the novel traces Iran s entry into the modern Middle East. And then, from domestic and foreign perspectives, the authors dictate the revolutionary transition to the reign of the ayatollahs in the 1980s and 90s. The closing movements leave us at the brink of the present as they capture the cultural and political intricacies of life in post 9/11 Persia. The Daytons writing style is detailed without lapsing into baroque hypercomplexity and their prose is lush and surprisingly dexterous they re as comfortable rendering the design details of a mansion anteroom as they are describing the political intrigue of a military coup and they do comedy as well as they do espionage. This variety is calibrated to mimic the complexities of 20th-century Iran, and the novel is a fascinating tribute to that land. The Daytons are also gracious enough to provide a cast list of major characters in approximate order of appearance as well as a glossary. If you can t afford a plane ticket to Tehran, visit the Daytons House. -Kirkus Review
The House that War Minister Built is a novel that may shake the neat structure and quaint romance of typical historical fiction with its authentic raw voices and its breadth of historic sweep. It is 1929 in a sequestered palace in Tehran, at the foot of the Alborz Mountains. The voice is that of the aging but pious Nargess, second wife to the Qajar Dynasty s War Minister, Nahdeer. So begins a story that spans over one hundred years of her extended family s witness to the paradigm shift from the Qajar (est. 1794) to the Pahlavi Dynasty (est. 1925). Nargess (a variant of Narcissia ), is the first of five voices that spin stories of intricate familial escapades; emotional and political; scandalous and amusing. Upon the arrival of the first Ford motorcar from Belgium, Nargess s well-intended horseman Hashem s efforts to start the machine blow up the engine and, . . .with smoke and backfires the automobile burst into the orchards, terrifying the congregated peasants . . . and a rumor spread . . . that the fire and smoke heralded the arrival of Satan himself--the return of the absent Imam at the end of the world! The book s humorous anecdotes, while entertaining, are the vehicle for darker themes. The dual themes of belonging and decay emerge. The emotional voices of the characters are carefully twisted into culturally accurate motivations guiding the actions of each: . . .was there no place on Earth for them, thought Nargess s daughter Pari, no place not polluted by oil and power and death? The authenticity and beauty of the Persian poetry and the intensity of description combines in a whipsawing tandem. For example, while chiding War Minister s son Vali for his dallying with a mistress, Nargess recites a line from Rumi, Love of gold is dross, love of beauty sin, and in the next scene, War Minister deflowers his son Vali s beloved Rakshandeh, His Father said nothing, but stood beside the vomiting Vali (high on opium), threatening him with his dangling genitals. With such excesses, it is no surprise that Nargess s journey of her heart follows the slow and sometimes violent decay of War Minister s power and his eventual assassination at the hands of General Z, the vile and fawning weasel of Reza Khan Shah and extends into the post 9/11 U.S./Iraq conflict. Complex in its approach; there are five interwoven storylines that include several main characters and a sky full of dimmer stars. Readers will navigate the galaxy through the character list provided. Those unfamiliar with Iranian history and culture will appreciate the glossary at the end. Begun as an impulse to record the family s amazing history in Iran, the novel, while character driven, evokes a rich landscape of both the human heart and the Persian heartland. Thoroughly educational, entertaining, and at times bluntly grotesque, The House That War Minister Built may take an investment in time, but its intrigues will have the reader surfing over to the Dayton s website, where the Harvard post doctorates may leave some clues about their next book.
About the Author
Andrew Imbrie Dayton received his undergraduate degree from Princeton, and advanced doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, where he met and married Elahe. He subsequently did postdoctoral studies at Harvard and now lives in the Washington, DC area. He has previously published short fiction in the Potomac Review and is a contributing editor for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Elahe Talieh Dayton was born, raised, and educated in Iran, eventually earning a doctorate from the University of Tehran. Subsequently she immigrated to the United States to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where she met and married Andy and earned another doctoral degree, followed by postdoctoral work at Harvard.