by Dalia Sofer
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen he became the ruler of Iran in 1979 -- and before he could create an Islamic Republic -- Ruhollah Khomeini first needed to eradicate his opposition. He created the Revolutionary Guard to capture and question those of most obvious concern -- communists, non-Muslims and those who thrived in the previous economic system.
In Dalia Sofer's fictional treatment of Khomeini's revolution, Isaac is a jeweler and non-religious Jew. He owns a beautiful house filled with fine rugs, silver, antiques and art. He drives a Jaguar, travels the world, vacations at his beach house. But when he is suspected of being a Zionist spy, Isaac is imprisoned, interrogated and tortured.
Sofer tells the story of Isaac and his family through a detailed third-person account that shifts its point of view among Isaac, his wife Farnaz, his daughter Shirin, and his son Parviz. Although Farnaz seems like the least likable of the main characters, the greatest strength of The Septembers of Shiraz lies in the complex interactions between her and her housekeeper, Habibeh. Farnaz may be "arrogant","conceited" and "belittling" in the housekeeper's view, but Sofer doesn't characterize Farnaz in such a simplistic way. Habibeh's honesty provokes candor in Farnaz, and the scenes between the two women are tense, ruthless, and representative of the challenges faced by the country they're trying to share.
Sofer is at her weakest, however, in the portions about the son who is studying architecture in New York. In contrast to the multidimensionality of the other characters, the portrayal of Parviz remains superficial. While we receive clues that he feels lonely and isolated, it's difficult to see past his persistent self-absorption. His pseudo-romance with the daughter of his Hassidic landlord and eventual boss offers only a passing distraction for him and for us. After speeding through the Parviz chapters, however, we're back with Isaac in his prison cell, where the moaning of prisoners and the thud of bodies on concrete is disturbing enough -- though not as startling as the experiences of Shirin, Isaac's 9-year-old daughter. Her empathy entangles her in Khomeini's revolution in a way that nearly destroys her entire family.