Dalia Sofer was ten years old when she and her family escaped from Iran into Turkey with the help of smugglers. The family eventually emigrated to New York and began a new life. Two years before they fled Iran Sofer’s father had been imprisoned and accused of being a Zionist spy. Dalia Sofer’s first novel was her way of understanding the horrific experience her father and many other Iranian citizens had suffered in prison. She relied on her memories, dialogs with her father and reading numerous accounts written by other Iranian prisoners. The result of this immense effort is a beautifully written novel that spans one year from September 1981 to September 1982 portraying a Jewish, Iranian family in Tehran shortly after the revolution.
Issac Amin an Iranian Jewish, gem dealer is arrested one afternoon as he was leaving his office to have lunch with his wife. He is accused of being a spy for Israel because of his frequent business trips there. The novel is written with alternating chapters narrated by each of the Amin family members. Isaac is arrested, imprisoned and tortured . During this time he finds that he is in the “care” of one guard and Isaac eventually learns he can rely on this man. Isaac’s wife, Farnaz, is left to deal with their home, their children and trying to find out where her husband has been taken. Both Isaac and Farnaz find themselves contemplating their life, their relationship and what they have become in life. Their son, Parviz, is in New York studying architecture. Having been the son of wealthy parents he now finds himself with not enough money to pay his rent or feed himself. Even the nine year old daughter, Shirin finds herself lost. She attempts to help her father by stealing files from a friend’s home whose father works for the revolutionaries.
Sofer deftly illustrates the ironies that define the lives of this family. Under the Shah’s regime they experienced privilege and wealth but that is essentially the reason Isaac has been imprisoned. Isaac was a non practicing Jew but he is accused of being a Zionist spy. Farnaz defined herself by her material possessions, all of which must eventually be left behind. Parviz falls in love with the daughter of an Hassidic Jew in New York but he is deemed unworthy of her because he is not a truly religious Jew.
Dalia Sofer has written a descriptive, moving novel that beautifully illustrates how each member of the Amin family arrives at new understanding of what is most important to them, to their family and to their survival. The author has taken her family’s amazing, terrifying history and created a story that explains to the world what happened to many Iranians in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. For the Amin family it was a treacherous journey on many levels. Let’s hope Dalia Sofer continues to tell the world of the journey her family and fellow Iranians have taken as they live out their tumultuous history.