The Gardens of Consolation

Parisa Reza, trans. from the French by Adriana Hunter. Europa (PRH, dist.), $16 ISBN 978-1-60945-350-3
Iran’s early 20th-century political upheavals drive this absorbing debut novel about a working-class couple and their gifted, socially ambitious son. The novel, by Iranian author Reza, opens in the early 1920s, with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir traveling from their native Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where Sardar has established himself as a shepherd. For the couple, who are illiterate and unworldly, the migration proves emboldening but also disorienting. Sardar is gripped by the “contained suffering that went by the name of exile,” and Talla bristles at unfamiliar class hierarchies and fluctuating customs regarding chadors. They later move to Shemiran, where they raise a son, Bahram, who begins “breaking with [the] continuity” of his parents’ provincialism. Under a mandate from Reza Shah, Bahram begins attending school at six and quickly finds himself to be an avid pupil. After receiving his village’s first high school diploma, Bahram goes on to attend the prestigious Tehran University, where he becomes involved in the National Front, a nationalist party. Reza, by weaving intimate domestic details with explications of Iran’s shifting fortunes (the nationalization of the country’s oil and the overthrow of Mosaddegh feature prominently here), succeeds in imbuing the Amirs’ story with stirring sociopolitical importance. She is uncommonly generous to her characters, and Talla is a formidable, hard-to-forget heroine. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/03/2016
Release date: 12/06/2016
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