cover image A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea

Dina Nayeri. Riverhead, $26.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-59448-704-0

This ambitious novel set in northern Iran in the decade after the 1979 revolution contains not a teaspoon but a ton of history, imagination, and longing. Beginning with the 1981 disappearance of 11-year-old Saba Hafezi’s twin sister, Mahtab, and their mother, Khanom, Nayeri interweaves Saba’s family trauma as seen through the eyes of the women of her seaside village, along with fantasies about Mahtab’s teenage fascination with everything American, shared by her friends Reza and Ponneh. Saba loves Reza, but allows herself to be married off to old Abbas Hossein Abbas, expecting to eventually gain freedom by becoming a rich widow. The characters’ dreams are shattered, however, amid rising violence, as beautiful Ponneh is beaten for wearing red high-heels, Saba is violently attacked by two chador-clad women working for her husband and the new regime, and another woman is hanged for defying the new Islamic norms. Saba’s first tentative protests give way to more drastic decisions as the realities of postrevolution Iran and the truth about her mother and sister sink in. Nayeri crams so much into her story, especially Saba’s distracting fiction of her sister’s life in the United States, that her lyrical evocation of a vanishing Iran gets lost in an irritating narrative tangle. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary. (Feb.)