Gina B. Nahai

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Gina B. Nahai

Dreams, despair in Iran

“You can define a person by his actions,” Nahai writes in this story of a fracturing family in Iran before the Islamic revolution, “or you can de?ne him by the choices he would have made had he been aware of his options.”

“Would-haves” define all the characters in this textured, almost poetic tale of a status-obsessed culture, a doomed marriage, a ghost’s appearance and a young daughter’s failure to fix everything.

The author, who grew up during the Shah of Iran’s reign and later studied the country’s pre- and post-revolutionary politics, does not zero in on Iran as a past and present hot zone. She instead focuses on one family, humanizing a people and a place that, these days, are more often associated with uranium-enrichment programs and sponsorship of terrorism.

At the center of the book is Yaas, which in Farsi means both “poet’s jasmine” and “despair.” The latter is more apropos. Omid, her higher-class father, regrets marrying Bahar, a commoner whose sunny optimism eventually shrivels like the roses at their home in the Alley of the Champions. Yaas is resented by both parents and often feels invisible, a sensation that will only grow stronger as her life takes a tragic turn.

Though Nahai sometimes leans too hard on little cliffhangers, she’s deft at painting a bleak picture that we want to look at—not as a morbid curiosity but as thoughtful, often heartbreaking art.