Oh it is ever so to forget this book is fiction when it has been a true story a hundred times over for countless Iranian women who have left Iran in hopes of a better life. Either they find the suitable spouse with a green card in Iran or else they move in with family and relatives until a suitable spouse is arranged for them by a caring older sister or aunt who knows what is best for them. This much is no fiction.
Laura Fitzgerald may have intended a sweet novel, but the sadness and the dilemma is too familiar and to close to home for many who have lived and know Iran’s culture and traditions.
My Iranian girlfriend in California sent me this book as a gift. I read it in just a couple of days while flying cross country and traveling. No matter what detachment I plan to exercise from the stories and the characters portraying Iranian women and their survival abroad, I fall into the trap of compassion, sadness, sympathy and sorrow. I must admit I worked hard to hold my tears for Tamila and all the girls like her. As I read, I was reminded by how safe and happy I feel to be living here and living my dreams day in and day out, at such a safe distance from Iran and the traditional expectations of Iranian women.
The plot is the story about one of many young Iranian women, Tamila, who is on a 3-month visa in the US and in desperate search of a husband she must find in order to stay in the country legally. What dilemma! I was 12 years old when I left Iran. I was very fortunate; some of my best friends and cousins were not. I can relate to the poignant regrets of Tamila’s parents who, once having the opportunity of a lifetime in the northern shores of California, decided to return to Iran to raise their children. It was impossible for them and millions of other Iranians to foresee just what tragedies were to befall that country in a short time. One small decision, a lifetime of payback and regrets! But who is to know when governments make promises of a lifetime, only to wake you up in horror to the reality that awaits you when you have fallen for their word?
The story unveils, with some bitter comedy, as Tamila meets “suitor” after “suitor”, the exact type of men for she was fleeing Iran. Her over-protective sister, Maryam, creates several opportunities which keep her either at home, send her to English classes or show her off at parties where suitors can be found – and while Tamila feels ungrateful for sneaking out on her, she knows that she has to live out this freedom, however temporary it may be, and to enjoy life to her heart’s content, if only for a little while. Innocent encounter with the sweet American barista, Ike, takes her off-guard and she experiences love for the first time in her life.
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The loyalty that Tamila feels for her parents and the debt she feels to her sister for allowing her to come to the US prevent any flicker of hope that she can be with Ike. While her heart is pained with feelings she has neither knowledge nor courage to express, for she has never learned how to love a man – only to respect him and serve him – she is putting on a perfect charade with her soon-to-be fiance, Haroun, chosen carefully by her sister as the ideal match for her. And as this ideal match, Haroun is arrogant, suffers from cleanliness phobias, and treats Tamila more like a commodity for purchase than a wife to marry. Incidentally, he does not possess a single character trait that Tamila can love.
The pressures of trying to please her parents and staying within the senseless bounds of her custom as one of the many Iranian women expected to marry an Iranian man make the story all the more bleak. This is the type of blind devotion and sense of guilt toward parents and family that rules the heart of average Iranian women living in Iran – and it is a heavy blow to both sides to break this bond and pursue one’s own dreams without the sacrifice of closeness to one’s parents. As we know well from The Godfather (my personal review of Mario Puzo’s brilliant novel), there are always consequences when one goes against the family!
Yes there is a happy ending. At least in fiction, we can twist the fate of our characters however we damn well please, and here I am delighted to see that Fitzgerald chooses to indulge us with hope and to build courage and confidence for the next Iranian woman facing the dilemma.
This book will perhaps not touch you as deeply if you have not experienced closely what the main character in this book has, and yet I recommend it for everyone. It is a sad tale about the things we wish were different, and a reminder of just how lucky we are to have the freedoms we take for granted each and every day.