Monday, July 28, 2008

Review: The Septembers of Shiraz

Summary: 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. -- Harper Perennial

I received THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ by Dalia Sofer from Gayle as part of the Everyday I Write the Book Blog Online Book Club. I was aware that this book was getting a lot of positive attention, and I actually had it on my TBR list. I thought the premise of how a Jewish-Iranian family is affected by a change of regime in 1980s Iran sounded promising. For some reason, I am drawn to books about the Middle East -- it's probably because I'm fascinated about their culture and history (and I really don't have much of an understanding of it.) After finishing this book, I have to say that I absolutely loved it; but I was also extremely affected by it. While I couldn't wait to find out what happened to the Amin family, I also didn't want the book to end -- I had some mixed emotions going on. I think it might be the most memorable book that I have read to date this year!

THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ is an extremely difficult book to read. I don't mean that in a negative way -- the writing and descriptions are amazing, the characters are well-developed and very memorable, and the storyline is fascinating. I guess I thought it was difficult to read because of the horrendous things that the Amin family (and other Iranians) experienced. I felt an affinity to so many of the characters, and I was deeply touched by what each one had to go through. The author chose to tell the story through the eyes of each member of the Amin family, and I think it was extremely effective. I think I really got to understand and know each of them better because of this writing technique. I also found it very interesting that the author even portrayed the "bad guys" as somewhat decent people -- it really made me question my original thoughts about these characters. I definitely understood the message in this book that things aren't all black and white when it comes to situations like this -- the lines are definitely blurred.

I loved how the author not only told the story of the Amin family in Iran, but she also described what it was like for Parviz (the Amin's college age son) to live in New York City. I thought she did a tremendous job of making Parviz "real," and I felt so much compassion towards him because he didn't really fit in with the Americans or the Jews that he associated with. My heart also went out to him because he was so far away from his family and had no idea how his jailed father or his mom and sister were doing.

Another character that I adored was Shirin (the young daughter in the Amin family.) At such a young age (around 9 years old), her entire life was turned upside-down. Her brother went to the U.S., her father went to prison and her mother became less attentive to her -- she was basically on her own physically and emotionally. I just felt so sad for her, especially when she tried to "help" some men who were being persecuted. The fear of getting caught and the guilt that she had to deal with were gut-wrenching. I think I could almost feel her pain and confusion. There's one scene later in the book when she was walking by herself in the streets, and a lady came up to her and said "you poor girl" -- that just summed up my feelings for her.

Ms. Sofer is an amazing writer -- her prose is just so beautiful -- and her background is just about as incredible as her book. In the "About the Book" section in the P.S. part of the book, she tells the reader about her life and the inspiration for THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ. She was born in Iran and her family fled to the United States when she was only 10 years old -- just like the Amin family in the book. In addition, her father had been imprisoned and accused of being a Zionist spy (also just like the character of Isaac.) As touched as I was by this book, I was even more affected by the story after I realized how much of it is based on reality. It's one thing to read a book, but to know that the atrocities mentioned in the story actually happened to real people just takes my breath away.

If you have read the book and have something to say about it or you are even curious to see what people are saying about the book, you should really check out the on-line discussion here. I can't wait to read everyone's thoughts and opinions about this amazing book. There is just so much to talk about and so many things to share. I could talk for hours about the resentment of the lower classes, the importance of material wealth, the dissolution of friendships, the effects of the political change on everyone (even children), the ethical dilemnas, the culture of Iranians, Jews and Americans, etc. -- I could go on and on! I am even thinking about suggesting it for a future book club selection (of course, my book club is sick of me always picking/suggesting the book!) There is a reader's guide available here if you want to get an idea about the types of issues to discuss.

I hope I was able to convey how much I enjoyed this book -- I think everyone should go out and read it right now! If you enjoyed THE KITE RUNNER or A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, you will love THE SEPTEMBERS OF SHIRAZ! After I finished the book, I turned to my husband and said that I think I liked it even better than those two novels (and that's saying a lot because I loved them!)

8 comments:

Ti said...

I was part of the online group too and just posted my comments on Gayle's site. I loved this book as well. I loved the way the author dealt with class struggle...it was very subtle, but the message was strong. I cared about these characters...and although the subject matter was difficult at times, I did not feel hatred for the prison guards. The small passages about the guards made me wonder about their lives...how they got to be where they were, etc. It was a book that made you ponder life...no matter where you stood in class. I can't wait for Sofer's next book.

Michele said...

I loved both Hosseini's books and am very intrigued with this one now. It sounds like it would be a good one for my book club. Thanks for the review!

Julie said...

I checked this book out of the library months ago and then sent it back without reading it. Too much on my TBR list. Will add it back on though.

Lenore said...

It's funny that you found it hard to read and I found it easy to read. I attibute that partly to the tone and partly to the fact that I read a lot of dystopia and books where horrible things tend to happen so maybe I'm a bit desensitized...

Anonymous said...

I really liked Hosseini's books, too. But, they were difficult for me to read. So, I'm sure this one would be to. I'll have to check it out when I'm in the right mood. Thanks for the review.

Anna said...

I've never read anything by Hosseini. I'm intrigued by the plot of this book, so maybe I'll check it out.

Jessica said...

Great review. I was part of the online book club on Gayle's sight too and just posted my own review yesterday. I loved this book, I agree with you that she was able to make all of the characters seem very real. I think this is one that will stick with me for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading this book as well. I liked it and thought Shirin was really brave for a girl her age.

I didn't find it hard to read, perhaps I've been way too desensitized.

Great review.