x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee adds to growing collection of novels concerning Iran's troubled recent history

Published in English earlier this week, The Book of Fate, which was banned by the Iranian authorities, adds to a growing collection of novels concerning Iran's troubled recent history.

The Book of Fate, Parinoush Saniee's newly translated novel, arrives amid a mild thunder clap of excitement.

Published earlier this week and described by its publisher, Little, Brown, as "fifty years of life in Iran, the banned novel that became a huge bestseller", the book has made its way into the English language with the assistance of the Sharjah International Book Fair Translation Grant Fund.

Saniee's novel is only the latest in a growing line of fiction that speaks directly to Iran's recent restive history.

Earlier this year, Laleh Khadivi published her second novel, The Walking, which charts the contrasting fortunes of two brothers who left Iran as the revolution smouldered. Dina Nayeri, meanwhile, released her debut novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, which followed the path of a wealthy family's twin daughters who try to piece together an existence in northern Iran as the unrest began to subside. Children of the Jacaranda Tree, Sahar Delijani's first novel, arrives in June, and concerns itself with the fate of three children born into this same tumultuous era.

While four is not quite a flood, these works illustrate how often history is being mined by a generation of gifted, Iranian-born female novelists whose lives were shaped by the revolution. And for those in this region who eagerly anticipate the imminent arrival of a deluge of Arab Spring-influenced novels, they may also provide a more realistic timetable for their likely appearance. In other words, the important novels of the uprisings are probably years rather than months away.

Nihad Sirees, whose stunning novel The Silence and the Roar appeared to foretell the claustrophobic circumstances that led to the Syrian uprisings, made this very point a few days ago during an email discussion prior to his appearance at next week's Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. Sirees will share the stage in the capital with Samar Yazbek, whose own deeply affecting memoir, A Woman in the Crossfire, chronicled the first 100 days of the Syrian revolution.

Sirees wrote The Silence and the Roar nearly a decade ago and, according to the author, "literature usually comes early to warn or very late to [preserve] the facts for the next generation." In this sense, his book loosely shares shelf space with Khaled Al Khamissi's Taxi and Ahmed Khaled Towfik's Utopia, among others, novels that were written pre-2011 and which spoke directly to the inequalities and injustices evident in Mubarak-era, pre-Arab Spring Egypt.

And what of The Book of Fate? What makes it so controversial?

A casual reader might find it hard to fathom what all the fuss is about.

The novel opens with the unconventional courtship of Massoumeh, a young schoolgirl, by Saiid, a pharmacist's assistant, as the former walks to school in the streets of pre-revolution Tehran.

When their romance is rumbled, Massoumeh, who denies any wrongdoing but whose family judge her actions to have brought shame on them, is married off to Hamid, who is deemed a more suitable suitor. The couple's often uneasy marriage is punctuated by Hamid's long trips away from the family home - he is the covert leader of a communist cell intent on fomenting trouble and revolution - and the arrival of two sons and, much later, a daughter. Nonetheless, love gradually finds root in the most unpromising of conditions.

But this is more a family saga than a political novel. Saniee consistently swats away history in the most perfunctory fashion: the Shah's departure is dealt with in a line, the Ayatollah's arrival in another. "The sweet and exhilarating early days of the revolution passed like the wind," she writes in reference as much to her writing style as to the yesteryears that this novel considers.

Her narrative arc eventually returns to the book's original thread, but still one wonders what irked the Iranian authorities quite so much to twice ban this largely routine generational drama?

* Nick March