three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-Caspian RainBahar, a teenager from a poor Jewish family in Tehran during the last years of the shah's reign, marries up after she meets the wealthy Omid, the son of Jews assimilated into the upper class. Expecting love, she finds callousness; hoping for education and independence, she instead becomes sequestered. When Omid takes on a mistress from a high-ranking Muslim family, their marriage starts to crumble. Bahar's and Omid's daughter Yaas, who narrates their story, falls ill as she tries to understand her mother's coldness and the disappointment, loss, sorrow, and tragedy that shroud them all.
MacAdam Cage. 290 pages. $25. ISBN: 1596922516

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's a sad story in a stifling society filled with broken people, and yet Nahai has you hooked from start to finish. ... [Her] characters engage the reader and become memorable vehicles for her themes because they defy the stereotypes most Americans expect." Allecia Vermillion

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 4 of 5 Stars
"Nahai's book examines the tensions of a society defined by religious dogma and class barriers. . . . The writing is so contained and the anecdotes so vivid that each chapter feels like its own story-yet at the same time, everything flows." Carlo Wolff

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Subplots that seem gratuitous at first are revealed as key to the story, such as the recurring presence of Ghost Brother and others who come back from the dead. ... Caspian Rain is a beautiful study in disappointment and ineffable loss, in the conflict between duty and desire." Carmela Ciuraru

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Gina Nahai left Iran when she was 13, but she offers readers a striking recollection of the sounds, smells and landscapes of her native land. This is a beautifully written picture of a culture caught between the modern West and ancient Islam." Lois Atwood

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"This lyrical and literary novel is beautifully written but relentlessly sad. A moderate dose of joy for some of the characters could have lifted this story to a more satisfying level." Carol Memmott

Chicago Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"By tethering the story of Caspian Rain to its native Iranian roots, Nahai refuses her women the redemptive potential of exile; she withholds from Bahar and Yaas the mythic promise of American self-invention. Perhaps Nahai will adjust her gifted storyteller's eye-born of exile and filled with empathy-to consider the sprawling spectacle of Iranian-Jewish life in Los Angeles." Donald Weber

South FL Sun-Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"Characters [have] precious monikers, such as the Pigeon Sister, the Opera Singer, the Psychiatrist, the Tango Dancer, the Ghost Brother-and it goes without saying this last really is a ghost. And, perhaps most important, a pretentious though thoroughly middlebrow literary aesthetic." Chauncey Mabe

Critical Summary

Gina Nahai, who left Iran as an adolescent, offers a rare glimpse into one family's inner sanctum prior to Iran's Islamic Revolution. A tragic story told in memoir form, Caspian Rain reveals the limitations of their lives against the class struggles and conflict between tradition and modernism that defined pre-Revolution Iran. Engaging characters (particularly the 12-year-old Yaas), some beautiful writing (with a little magical realism thrown in, including the existence of Ghost Brother), and a compelling story propelled critics along. A few reviewers noted a slightly pretentious style and tone, some overly precious moments, and a limited view of the Jewish-Iranian diaspora. When it's at its best, however, Caspian Rain is a fascinating, tragic coming-of-age story.

Also by the Author

Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith (1999): Roxanna the Angel, born into a troubled family in Tehran's Jewish ghetto, abandons her own daughter when she attempts to escape her trapped life against the political and social turmoil of pre-Revolution Iran.