four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Dalia Sofer
user_rating: 
0

A-The Septembers of ShirazIn 1981, two years after the religious revolution in Iran, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested in Tehran for dual crimes: he is wealthy, and he is Jewish. While Isaac is tortured in prison, his wife, Farnaz, and their nine-year-old daughter, Shirin, once protected by fortune and privilege, must learn to survive in a world where informants report any indiscretion—real or imagined—to the Revolutionary Guards; neighbors disappear without a trace; and fear and suspicion become a way of life. At the same time, Isaac’s son, Parviz, an architecture student in New York, struggles with his isolation and the embarrassment caused by his newly impoverished conditions.
Ecco. 340 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061130400

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Septembers of Shiraz is a remarkable debut: the richly evocative, powerfully affecting depiction of a prosperous Jewish family in Tehran shortly after the revolution. … Although [the Amin family’s] crises—and the philosophical questions they raise—are of the greatest urgency and seriousness, The Septembers of Shiraz is miraculously light in its touch, as beautiful and delicate as a book about suffering can be." Claire Messud

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A smoothly told first novel by gifted writer Dalia Sofer. … [Sofer], like Shirin, seems wise beyond her years, and her prose, sturdy always, sometimes offers us consolation we weren’t aware we needed even as we grasp it with both hands." Alan Cheuse

Daily Mail (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Told from effortlessly shifting perspectives, Dalia Sofer’s first novel draws on her own family’s experiences during this same era, when her father, like Isaac, was wrongfully imprisoned. Lightly glossing its drama with historical and political detail, she weaves a suspenseful tale that probes universal questions of love, identity and faith." Hephzibah Anderson

New York Jewish Week 4 of 5 Stars
"Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz … is a first novel that doesn’t at all have the feeling of a novice’s pen. … Her images and the mood she creates stay with the reader, as she captures interrupted lives in the fetid prison cells as well as amidst the jasmine-scented gardens, elegant parlors furnished with antiquities and closets filled with stylish Western clothing that have to be veiled with long black garments in the streets of Tehran." Sandee Brawarsky

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Sofer skillfully balances the grim intensity of Isaac’s prison days, where he watches daily brutalities inflicted on fellow prisoners, with chapters devoted to the effects of his imprisonment on his family. … The story features a carefully crafted plot with telling details that plunge the readers into the scene while revealing larger brutalities, as well as the small secrets of the heart." Joan Hinkemeyer

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Sofer paints a complicated picture of post-revolutionary Iran: The Amins (and especially their relatives) aren’t entirely innocent, having shut their eyes to brutality and corruption under the shah, but Sofer recoils from the idea of justice by ‘collective retribution’ voiced by Farnaz’s formerly docile housekeeper. While the dialogue can feel overly formal at times, the impression the reader is left with at the end is that of a powerful story honestly told." Yvonne Zipp

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This spare, taut and moving novel seems to be, at least in part, an elegy for the author’s lost sense of home. … The novel is not flawless—Ms. Sofer’s gift for deft characterization rather deserts her when it comes to Isaac’s son, Parviz." Niall Stanage

Critical Summary

Dalia Sofer, who was forced to flee postrevolutionary Iran at the age of ten after her own father was unjustly imprisoned, captures her family’s experiences in this moving, semiautobiographical tale. Citing Sofer’s evocative prose, sensitive characterizations, and suspenseful plot, reviewers called Sofer’s debut novel persuasive and memorable. Though she ruminates on themes of faith, love, and the heavy toll of political and religious oppression, Sofer’s honesty and balanced outlook prevent the story from lapsing into sensational melodrama or lurid allegory. Her descriptions of torture, though vivid, are not gratuitously violent. A few small complaints included some contrived dialogue and Parviz’s annoying self-pity, but critics agreed that these do not detract from an otherwise "powerful, timely book" (Rocky Mountain News).

Cited by the Critics

The Kite Runner | Khaled Hosseini (2003): This widely acclaimed novel tracks the friendship between the son of a wealthy businessman and the son of a poor servant against the political turmoil of late 20th-century Afghanistan. ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003)

The Blood of Flowers | Anita Amirrezvani (2007): In 17th-century Persia, a young woman learns the ancient art of weaving carpets in an attempt to free herself and her widowed mother from lives of hardship and servitude.