Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith

Gina Barkhordar-Nahai, Author, Gina Barkhordar Nahai, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $24 (384p) ISBN 978-0-15-100388-4
Iranian author Nahai's (Cry of the Peacock) richly embroidered, mythopoeic new novel is a tale worthy of Scheherazade. Miriam the Moon weaves for her niece Lili the spellbinding story of how Lili's mother, Roxanna the Angel, in the grip of a destiny she could not control, abandoned her five-year-old daughter without explanation and vanished into the Iranian night; she remained missing for the next 13 years. (""Free will and conscious decisions are mere inventions of minds too feeble to accept the reality of our absurd existence,'' Miriam tells Lily.) Beginning with Roxanna's birth in 1938 in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran, the narrative moves assuredly through her family's history and into her legend. At the time of her disappearance, in 1971, the point of view shifts from third to first person, the voice of Lili, the abandoned child. Six-year-old Lili is put on an airplane and sent off to a dreary Catholic boarding school in Pasadena, where she meets her guardian angel, a childhood friend of Roxanna's named Mercedez the Movie Star. Meanwhile, in Iran, the Shah's corrupt regime is overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and in the wave of Jewish persecution that follows, Miriam the Moon and her family flee to L.A. Eventually, Roxanna is spied in Turkey, and an affecting reunion with Lili ensues, although the ending, meant to be symbolic, does not quite ring true. The story moves along briskly, yet with a surreal edge, filled with characters who have such names as Alexandra the Cat and Jacob the Jello. The larger-than-life personalities of Roxanna and her family shine convincingly in the sections devoted to Iran, markedly less so when transplanted to L.A. Lili's struggle to know who she is, while fluidly rendered, lacks the resonance of Roxanna's, whose tale is marvelously compelling. 35,000 first printing; author tour; foreign rights sold to Germany, Sweden, Italy, the U.K., Greece and Holland. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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