cover image Island of Bewilderment

Island of Bewilderment

Simin Daneshvar, trans. from the Persian by Patricia J. Higgins and Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi. Syracuse Univ., $29.95. (352p) ISBN 978-0-8156-1147-9

Daneshvar (Savushun) offers an immersive if didactic look at a young woman exploring the bounds of her independence in 1970s Iran. Hasti Nourian, 26, works at the Ministry of Arts and Culture in Terhan. Hasti’s mother, Eshrat, wants Hasti to marry rich and be as comfortable as she is in her second marriage, but Hasti carries with her the idealized memories of her martyred father, who might be a hero or might have been shot by accident. Hasti is torn between two suitors—Morad Pakdel, the political idealist she’s loved for years, and Salim Farrokhi, her mother’s choice, who doesn’t fully respect her ambitions. As Hasti vacillates, she must decide what really matters to her and what she wants for her future. Much of the plot, dialogue, and character interactions feels like vehicles for discussions and lectures (one character says, “Greens are a symbol of abundance of riches and fertility. This porridge is made of germinated wheat, and you know that wheat is the holiest of plants. It’s the first meal that Adam ate”), but Daneshvar (1921–2012) crafts in Hasti a well-rounded character trying to untangle her identity in a time of political upheaval. Though as a novel it’s a bit creaky, it serves as a rich cultural artifact. (Oct.)