cover image Disoriental


Négar Djavadi, trans. from the French by Tina Kover. Europa (PRH, dist.), $18 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-60945-451-7

Djavadi’s momentous first novel is a both a multigenerational family saga and a history of modern Iran. Narrated by 25-year-old Kimia Sadr, the story opens in 1996 in a fertility clinic in Paris, but Kimia’s Iranian ancestors’ stories take over right there in the waiting room, careening back and forth in time. Many generations of Sadrs make appearances: a great-grandfather obsessed with blue-eyed descendants, a grandmother born in a harem, uncles known numerically by birth order. When Kimia is still quite young, her journalist father, the blue-eyed Darius Sadr, is forced to flee Iran after his outspoken criticism, first of the shah, and then of Khomeini. In 1981, when Kimia is 10, she, her sisters, and her mother, Sara, cross dangerous mountains on horseback to join Darius in Paris, where their home becomes a dangerous hub of expat dissident activity. Kimia rebels, traveling Europe looking for a new self in debauchery and punk rock. Violence, meanwhile, follows the family to Europe, with tragic consequences. The novel convincingly and powerfully explores the enormous weight of one’s family and culture on individual identity, especially the exile’s. (Apr.)