This is an exquisite debut novel with the mixed flavors of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, and even a taste of the powerful memoir Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is a story about culture clash, immigration, tradition, and love in all its many forms.
Maryam Mazar is a middle-aged wife and mother, married to an Englishman, living in London and dreaming of her former life in Iran. Her beloved sister back home has just died and her teenaged son sent to London to live with Maryam and her husband Edward. In a moment of inexplicable rage, Maryam slaps the grieving boy, sending him fleeing to the nearest bridge. Maryam’s pregnant daughter Sara succeeds in stopping the boy from throwing himself into the river but miscarries her child in the process. Horrified, Maryam returns to Iran to contemplate her life and try to forgive herself.
Maryam had grown up the sheltered daughter of a powerful military authority in a small village during increasingly tumultuous political times. Her teenaged resistance to an arranged marriage and getting caught in an awkward but innocent circumstance with her father’s servant, her tutor and beloved best friend Ali, led to her expulsion from home, and ultimately to a new life in London. But there are many painful undercurrents that we become aware of only gradually as the author leads us forward and backward in time, and from Maryam’s tortured self-reflection to the anger and confusion of Maryam’s daughter.
The ending was probably as difficult to write as it was to conceive, and the author is mostly successful in portraying the tentative rapprochement of a mother and daughter from two very different worlds. Much food for thought here.