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The Septembers of Shiraz    by Dalia Sofer order for
Septembers of Shiraz
by Dalia Sofer
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

In her first novel, The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer writes about a time she must know very well. After the Shah's departure, life in Iran becomes quite different; the old order no longer prevails. The former holders of power - the rich, educated and westernized - are regarded with suspicion at best, imprisoned and killed at worst. In a Muslim-majority world, Jews present a special problem.

Which brings us to the Amin family. They are wealthy and Jewish, but not particularly religious - both of which are strikes against them in this new world. The son has just been sent to New York to study. The younger daughter is at home with the mother when the father is arrested and imprisoned. We follow this family through their ordeal, the son not able to communicate precisely with his family for fear of greater trouble for them, the wife realizing how much this emotionally distant husband really means to her, the daughter forming her own conclusions about what is happening and acting upon them, and finally, the father, who lives through the prison ordeal.

With its remarkable opening sentence, 'when Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won't be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised,' and its insights into each character's emotional status, author Sofer has created a careful look at a family in distress. Among other things, she is able to show how this time can breed distrust in people long thought close but not family. The servant Habibeh and her son were taken in by the Amin family, fed, clothed and educated. With Isaac's imprisonment, suspicion creeps in - has Habibeh been stealing all along?

The contrasting feelings about religion - Isaac's secularity versus his captor's fervent Muslim belief - are echoed in the son's encounters with Hassidic Jews in New York. How can opposing beliefs find common ground? Yet, this is really a gentle retelling of a difficult story. There is much that could have been harsher. In the end, how much does the Amin family really learn? They are saved by the very thing that seems to endanger them, and the lemon on their grilled fish in Istanbul by the Bosporus makes the taste just as delicious as it did in Ramsar by the Caspian.

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