A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri
Fiction; 432 pgs
From the Publisher:
A magical novel about a young Iranian woman lifted from grief by her powerful imagination and love of Western culture.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.Filled with a colorful cast of characters and presented in a bewitching voice that mingles the rhythms of Eastern storytelling with modern Western prose, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a tale about memory and the importance of controlling one’s own fate.
I almost immediately fell under Dina Nayeri's spell as I began reading A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea. Saba's story is such a sad story, but she never lost hope. The story begins in the early 1980's and carries the reader into the 1990's.
Saba is an interesting character. She is naive in many ways, oblivious even. She lives in her own little world. As a child, she created stories as a way to cope with the absence of her sister from her life, imagining her living a parallel life to hers in the United States. Saba and her sister, Mahtab, were born to Christian parents in a country where those practicing Christianity are persecuted. It hadn't always been that way. Once the family had lived openly. But then the revolution came and almost over night (as Saba tells it), their lives changed. Saba's mother was an activitist and shared many of her views with her daughters. When Saba's sister and mother disappeared from her life, she had only her memories of them and the stories she created about them.
Saba's stories about her sister in the U.S. are comical to some extent--frivilous, really. And yet, I can't help but think there is truth to Saba's distorted image of America, a picture she gets from reading bootlegged books and magazines and hears about in outlawed music.
After my initial infacutation with the book, my interest in it began to wane a bit. As much as the young Saba touched my heart, I found her denial and stories too similar after awhile. It wasn't until Saba was married off that I became engrossed in the story again. I found myself relating to and liking the grown up Saba much more than I did Saba as a child.
The story of what really happened to Mahtab does not come out immediately, although it does come out eventually. It isn't a surprise, really. Hints are given right from the start and so I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that it is heartbreaking. Dina Nayeri does an amazing job of conveying the grief process Saba goes through of being left without a sister and mother--showing that the process of grief takes time. The loss of her mother and sister was something that affects Saba her entire life. My heart ached for her over and over.
While Saba is the main focus of the novel, her friends and family play an important role in the book as well. Saba is fortunate that her family has money and connections. Her two closest friends, Ponneh and Reza, are not of the same status as she is and their lives reflect that in many ways. Still, the three have a strong bond between them. They are each others strength as well as confidants.
The author describes life in Iran through her characters and their experiences, providing a glimpse at the culture(s) and lifestyles of the people. She paints a picture that is both vividly beautiful as well as one that is terribly dark.
When all was said and done, as I came away from the book with a feeling of contentment. Amidst the sadness, there was much hope. Saba's story, and that of her friends, is a meaningful story. It is a story of friendship and love. Of strength and strife. Of despair and of hope.
You can learn more about Dina Nayeri and her books on the author's website.
Source: Copy of book provided by publisher via NetGalley.
© 2013, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.