IN THE WALLED GARDENS
The underlying corruption of prosperous prerevolutionary Tehran provides the backdrop for this stilted first novel, alternately narrated by Mahastee, a wealthy, unhappily married woman whose husband is one of the business elite, and Reza, a Marxist underground revolutionary who is the son of the groundskeeper at Mahastee's father's estate. As children, Mahastee and Reza harbored a forbidden love for each other. Now in their 30s, they are thrown together in their attempt to free an acquaintance imprisoned unfairly by the Shah's secret police. Despite their common cause, their differing loyalties—Reza's to Marxism, as embodied by Jalal, an uncompromising revolutionary, and Mahastee's to some more nebulous idea of justice and personal freedom—pull them apart. A wandering narrative leaches some of the drama from the plot, as do the characters' desultory musings. The narrative voices of Reza and Mahastee are virtually identical despite their differences of gender, class and politics, and both report on the life around them with much description, but little sentiment. Because they do not seem emotionally engaged with their complex situations, the reader does not engage with their stories, despite the urgency of the characters' plights. The parties, gossip, affairs and drinking of the Tehran "B+" list are well drawn, as are the relationships of masters with servants, but the story is hollow at its core. (Aug. 21)
Forecast:A misleading jacket photo of veiled women suggests that the book addresses Islamic fundamentalism. This is not the novel for those looking for a fictional primer on current affairs, but the details of privileged life under the Shah are of interest to those seeking historical background.
Release date: 08/01/2002