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In the Walled Gardens: A Novel    by Anahita Firouz order for
In the Walled Gardens
by Anahita Firouz
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In the Walled Gardens presents to the reader Iran in the time of the Shah from a variety of different perspectives, that reveal a society simmering towards revolution. The tale is told in two main voices - those of the aristocratic Mahastee and of her childhood playmate Reza, whose family worked for hers and have since fallen on hard times (in fact, I found that I had to occasionally re-read paragraphs to work out who was telling that part of the story).

Mahastee's husband Houshang is one of the movers and shakers of the old regime, bidding and bribing his way to wealth and power, as he courts and cossets foreigners and rear admirals in a bid for a very lucrative contract to build a port at Bandar Kangan. They go out every evening, Mahastee's role being that of a social ornament, and have been drifting apart for years. She counts 'his failings like darts on a board', focuses on her own job and on helping a colleague whose only son, a student, has been arrested by SAVAK and is in Komiteh Prison.

Reza works as a civil servant for the Ministry of Education by day, teaches night school in the evenings 'and late nights I'm part of a Marxist underground organization.' However, the many different revolutionary groups are at odds with each other as much as with the regime, and there are regular betrayals to the point that 'In short order we were proved rapacious, shortsighted, ill-experienced, divided against ourselves ... Then a peasant class with religious obscurantism took over.'

Mahastee's and Reza's paths cross at her parents' home, her father still respected but powerless these days. There are hints of scandal in the Bandar Kangan affair, and Mahastee steadily grows more disgusted with her life and her country's record on human rights. She remembers her childhood love for Reza and yearns towards him, but politics deepen the divide between their worlds, with 'undefinable betrayals ... connected and accruing like capillaries.'

The author sheds light on the dissolution of the old way of life that once existed in the walled gardens of Iran. The tale centers on a romance, but it essentially speaks of revolution and its outcome. Moving towards it, Mahastee sees her beloved Persian minatures differently as 'Flinging themselves out of the impossible geometry of their pavilions and courts and gardens. Into an unpredictable future.'

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