cover image The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree

Shokoofeh Azar, trans. from the Farsi. Europa, $18 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-60945-565-1

This challenging debut by Iranian writer Azar, forced to flee to Australia in 2011, tells in dreams and fantasies the story of one family during and after the Islamic Revolution, which overtook the country in the last quarter of the 20th century. Thirteen-year-old Bahar narrates from beyond the grave, weaving a phantasmagorical tale that follows her father, Hushang, as he leads his family away from Tehran and their old ways, abandoning rugs and books and intellectual pursuits deemed dangerous by the new Islamic regime, to the small town of Razan, where he hopes to protect them. Propelled by fairy tales of jinn and the dead, the novel meanders from Bahar’s own death in a fire set by Islamic thugs to the disappearance, torture, and death of her brother, Sohrab, through the mental struggles of Bahar’s mother, who climbs greengage plum trees, and beautiful sister Beeta, who turns into a mermaid. Azar’s florid style emulates the rich storytelling tradition of bygone Persia, redolent with Zoroastrian lore and mired in magical vegetation “containing a thousand memories,” clearly meant as a bulwark against the oppression of the present day regime. But the promise of the voice is weighed down by clunky writing, rife with repeated and awkward phrasings. Azar’s dense family saga is animated by characters who face terror heroically, but it’s undercut by the unpolished prose. [em](Jan.) [/em]