In many books, what is written on the book jacket or the online description gives away what happens in the first few chapters. In a Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, that description makes up the entirety of its plot. Not an action driven novel, this is primarily a story of what it feels like to be a woman in Iran after the Revolution. Though the writing is beautiful and evocative, the story itself seems to drag. I found the tone of the book and its main characters to be largely self-pitying. I might be whiney too in their circumstances, but I like to have a worthy protagonist to root for when I read, like I did in The Taliban Cricket Club or All Woman and Springtime. I will recommend this novel to friends for its beautiful writing and sense of atmosphere, but it won’t be at the top of my list.
I felt sad after I read this because I realize that the young girl in the story could be many such women in Iran who suffer greatly under the Taliban and others of that ilk. It tells of her life without her twin, who she imagines in America. It is a very thoughtful book which I won't soon forget, and it's not entirely without some light moments and some hopeful thoughts. It's well worth the read.
This book totally engaged me. I was drawn into the story and the mystery, but perfectly content to take the ride and allow it all to unfold. The story is told by different voices and that gave it depth and multiple perspectives. I'd recommend it to anyone enchanted with Persian culture, women's issues and a good story well told.
I find myself drawn to coming of age tales and I particularly loved Dina Nayeri's novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, which is set in Gilan Province in post -revolutionary Iran. In 1981 young Saba Hafezi loses both her mother and twin sister. She believes that her sister Mahtab and her mother have traveled to America to escape the religious regime. This however, is not everyone's belief and at first there is a bit of a mystery about it.
Saba's father is wealthy and a Christian a fact which he must keep hidden. Because he is raising Saba alone he welcomes the local village people into his home so they can assist him in raising his daughter. Saba in turn becomes best friends with two of the village children, Ponneh, a girl and Reza a boy who both her and Ponneh love. We get to experience life in this village and even gain some insight into there thoughts. While post-revolutionary Iran may not be appealing, life in this village where the people love and support each other is.
As Saba grows she secretly listens to Western music , reads their books and learns English as she hopes to join her mother and sister someday. She even develops stories about what her sister Mahtab is doing in the United States and tells them to the local villagers: Before we open the envelope from Harvard, I must be sure you understand. You see, Khanom and Agha Mansoori, this isn't only about education. Mahtab needs a father. Can you imagine how much she must mess Baba? Maybe as much as I miss Maman. But unlike me Mahtab fills the holes in her own heart through the strength of her will. she is clever, and she doesn't sit around and suffer. So as she tears open the envelope, she is imagining herself in the warm, secure arms of Baba Harvard--the world's perfect father, with his deep pockets and endless erudition and mild discipline and visionary philosophy. She turns it over in her hand, examines the Cambridge postmark, runs her fingers over her own address. Its neither thick nor thin. She rips it open, hands shaking and scans. Sadly, I don't have the knowledge to recreate this letter for you, but basically this:
Dear Ms. Hafezi, Something something...WAITING LIST...Some other hings. Sincerely, Harvard College "Well I don't believe this!" says Khanom Mansoori with a huff. "Who is this Agha Harvard who thinks he can make our Mahtab wait? Soes he know she can chatter all day in English? She must know a thousand big words!
Saba has comfort and love in her home village and yet she eternally longs for a different life, the one that she imagines that her sister Mahtab is living. There is something so touching about this story, that I couldn't put it down.
Dina Nayeri is an Iranian by birth and she left Iran when she was 10 years old. By writing this novel she was able to recreate what she so loved about the country as well as give the western reader insight into what life was like in the country after the revolution. Because Nayeri hasn't lived in Iran, she did a great deal of research about it and some of the people who helped her with it she was not able to name in the book. I was impressed by her writing and hope to read more from her in the future.
The moment I finished this book, I wanted to read it again from the beginning. This is truly an amazing, wonderful book, and the author is supremely talented. I have too many books on my to-read list to start it over just now, but this is the kind of book I will return to again and again, in part to live in a world so very different than my own for a few hours.