“A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea” by Dina Nayeri is a moving, haunting novel about a girl growing up in Iran around the time of the revolution.
Saba Hafezi and her twin sister Mahtab are wealthy daughters of a man who owns a rice farm in Iran, and his educated, Christian wife. Saba and Mahtab collect American magazines and books, and are diligently learning English. Encouraged by their mother, they dream of going to America one day.
Then the revolution happens. The Hafezis must pretend to be good Muslims to survive. Somewhere in there, Mahtab and her mother disappear, leaving Saba and her father behind. Saba’s memories are hazy. Did Mahtab and her mother get on a plane to America? Did Mahtab go to America alone and her mother ended up in prison? Are they still alive? No one seems to want to tell Saba the truth. Her prodigious imagination gives her twin and her mother a rich life in the form of stories she tells her friends.
A sweeping novel that gives great insight into what it’s like to live under an oppressive, religious regime, my heart broke for Saba. What does one do when survival butts up against one’s dreams? Do you follow your heart or your practical thoughts? What happens when traditions are followed simply for their own sake, even if they make things worse? Do they still have value in helping us make sense of an otherwise chaotic world?
Dina Nayeri, herself an Irani immigrant, is a lyrical author. She doesn’t compromise Irani traditions in order to suit an American audience, nor does she over-explain them. She shows them for what they are, which swings wildly between beautiful, positive, and harmful. There are lovely details that paint very clear pictures of what happens in the book.
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