Friday, January 18, 2013

Fiction: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

Publisher: Riverhead Books
Date: January 31, 2013
Format: ARC
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
Pages: 420
Reading time: four days

From GoodReads: Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

My review: I was a bit wary of giving A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea a try because I've been in a bit of a slump lately with novels similar to this, namely, books with depressing settings that actually occur (or occurred) in the real world. It's easy to get tired of the type of book where you already know that bad, totally unfair things are going to happen to the characters just because of the world in which they live, and that such worlds and their situations are based on true examples of how people have lived.

But once I started reading, I was instantly gripped by Saba's story and the lyrical, poignant way in which it is presented. It becomes clear fairly early about what has really happened to Saba's twin and probably to her mother, yet the reader still feels like he or she must continue to cling on to hope that something about this is mistaken. At the same time, Saba's stories of her sister act as a fascinating allegory for Saba's own life, giving a deeper perspective her desires and frustrations. There's still the ever-present depressing element of the restrictive, unjust, and often violent and corrupt situation that oppresses Saba and others around her, but occasional happiness, healing, and triumph is balanced with the trauma, pain, and sadness, allowing the bleak aspects of the novel to become more manageable.

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