Torn apart in Tehran’s re­li­gious tem­pest

Re­becca Star­ford

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

IN the same way that Khaled Hos­seini’s wildly suc­cess­ful The Kite Run­ner il­lu­mi­nated a hu­man tale within the per­se­cu­tory Tal­iban regime in Afghanistan, The Septem­bers of Shi­raz , Dalia Sofer’s de­but novel, ex­poses in­tol­er­ance, cor­rup­tion and de­pri­va­tion in postrev­o­lu­tion­ary Iran. Bold in her po­lit­i­cal scope, Sofer does not weigh down her read­ers with rhetoric or pro­pa­ganda; she is a gen­tle sto­ry­teller, writ­ing with great lyri­cism and rhythm. This is a trou­bling, mov­ing and as­ton­ish­ingly as­sured novel that, in spite of the heavy sub­ject mat­ter, is ul­ti­mately a cel­e­bra­tion of life, im­bued with hope and pos­si­bil­ity.

Isaac Amin is a rare-gem dealer in Tehran. It is 1981; Iran is two years into its Is­lamic revo­lu­tion. Life un­der Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini is, to a West­ern reader, one of for­fei­ture and tyranny. Sharia has been en­forced: women must cover their hair, men are for­bid­den to wear shorts. Drink­ing al­co­hol has been out­lawed, along with the broad­cast of non-re­li­gious mu­sic on ra­dio and tele­vi­sion.

Prop­erty is re­dis­tributed and busi­nesses, like Isaac’s, are ran­sacked by Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards. Ev­ery day Ira­ni­ans go miss­ing, some into ex­ile, oth­ers im­pris­oned. Many dis­si­dents are mur- dered in their homes and on the streets.

Isaac and his fam­ily, cul­tured and af­flu­ent, are in dan­ger. The Amins en­joyed great pros­per­ity dur­ing Shah Mo­ham­mad Reza Pahlavi’s reign: they were even guests, on oc­ca­sion, at royal cer­e­monies. The fam­ily is also Jewish, a mi­nor­ity sta­tus that never fu­elled dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der the sec­u­lar rule of the shah. In postrev­o­lu­tion­ary Iran, how­ever, a non-Mus­lim life is lit­er­ally worth less than a Mus­lim one.

One af­ter­noon, Isaac is ar­rested. Falsely ac­cused of be­ing a Zion­ist spy, he is im­pris­oned out­side Tehran. He shares a cell with a num­ber of men and a teenage boy. The pris­on­ers es­tab­lish friend­ships, of sorts, and with this a sense of egal­i­tar­i­an­ism. Isaac is of­fered no tele­phone call; he can speak to no lawyer. He is oc­ca­sion­ally taken away for ques­tion­ing, dur­ing which time masked guards tor­ture him with cig­a­rette burns and whip­pings. Such pun­ish­ments are dealt ar­bi­trar­ily; Isaac’s fate de­pends on the mood of the guards. Isaac’s sep­a­ra­tion from his fam­ily fa­cil­i­tates re­flec­tions about his re­la­tion­ship with his wife and chil­dren, and about the more gen­eral po­lit­i­cal and so­cial up­heaval in Iran. Isaac and Far­naz, who have each felt es­tranged from the other since the beginning of the revo­lu­tion, eval­u­ate the dy­nam­ics of their mar­riage, the suc­cesses and the fail­ings: ‘‘ It occurred to [ Isaac] that his wife’s dis­tress might be caused more by the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of their love than that of their coun­try.’’

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