Dalia Sofer’s first book, The Septembers of Shiraz, is an excellent novel, written with colorful and detailed word imagery, covering a one-year period from September 1981 to September 1982. Sofer was ten years old when her own Jewish family escaped Iran. That fact might just be the event that gives her insight into the Jewish condition and also sensitivity regarding the plight of the oppressed and the poverty stricken during the post Iranian Revolution years.
“When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.”
Isaac Amin is an Iranian Jewish gem dealer. His office is stormed by two Revolutionary Guards, as he is suspected of being a spy due to his wealth and frequent trips to Israel, and also due to the fact he has ties to the Shah. He is arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and in constant fear for his life, living under stark circumstances, and within the confines of Anti-Semitism. Armin has nothing but time on his hands to think, and he is fearful about his wife and nine-year old daughter, who do not know of his whereabouts. He thinks about his son, Parviz, who is a student, living in Brooklyn, with his own set of insecurities and problems. Within the prison walls is one humane guard, who takes it upon himself to be Amin’s caretaker, during Amin’s darkest hours and days. Armin knows he can rely on him.
Imprisonment gives Amin time to think about his life, and what is meaningful to him, and how he wishes he could take back time and do certain things differently (not work as hard, be more attentive to his wife and family). He realizes he has worked his entire life with valuable jewels, but has not put as high a value on his family as he should have. Amin wishes he could be set free so he could try to redeem himself with his family.
Meanwhile, Farnaz, his wife, is in constant distress, trying to cope with the situation and run the household without knowing where her husband is (telling her daughter that Amin has gone on a trip). She searches for him to no end. Farnaz thinks that her housekeeper has turned Amin in. This mistrust gives her to contemplate her relationship, with those who work for her, wondering if she has been misguided, and wondering if she has treated them as well as she thinks she has. She has been a self-absorbed person, to some degree, throughout the years, and is now realizing what is most valuable to her, and wishes things could be different.
The family is used to the finer things in life, and Farnaz has time to reflect upon what is important to her…possessions or her husband…material things or familial relationships. She too would like more time with her husband in order to make atonement and redeem herself.
Sofer brings us a strong story line, bringing us glimpses of life after the Iranian Revolution, and her characters are extremely believable. She infuses emotional estrangement, Jewish identity and assimilation with the bravery and humanity of souls, bringing us sympathetic characters within a harsh and cruel environment. Her first novel is a page-turner, a definitive with descriptive images, a realized, poignant and thought-provoking historical work of fiction, reading more like non-fiction.
I personally own and have read this book.