Review: Disoriental by Negar Djavadi (translated from the French by Tina Kover)



The title of this novel is a deft play on words:  in this story of an Iranian dissident family forced into exile in Paris in 1981 after the Islamist revolution, Kimia Sadr is not only separated from her “oriental” identity, but she, and her whole family, are “disoriented” by the loss of all that is familiar and by the strangeness of a new language and culture. As Kimia points out toward the end of the novel, “That’s the tragedy of exile.  Things, as well as people, still exist, but you have to pretend to think of them as dead.”

Djavadi structures her story as a dual narrative:  in the present, the narrator is waiting in a reproductive medicine clinic, pursuing her desire to become a mother.  But as she waits and wonders, she constantly flashes back to her childhood in Iran, telling the complicated and often funny story of her extended family, and then disclosing the horrific series of historical events that destroys the lives of both of her parents.

For me, the best lens through which to understand the human truths of history is by reading well written and thoughtful literary fiction.  If you’re interested in what happened in Iran in the latter half of the 20th century, Disoriental takes you there, through the eyes of a complex and likeable narrator.

— JoAnn McCaig