Monday, July 16, 2012

A Bitter Veil

A Bitter Veil: A Novel of Iran is a tragic story of our own time. I was in high school when the Shah was overthrown and the Iranian exiles began to arrive. Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting a few of those exiles and once went to a party at an Iranian home. The hospitality was generous and refined; the food and drink abundant and superb. Needless to say, I had a marvelous evening. I was happy to encounter similar scenes of Middle Eastern graciousness in A Bitter Veil, as the author describes the lifestyle of a prosperous Iranian family in the late 1970's in Tehran, from the point of view of a young American girl who has married the son and heir. When they first meet in Chicago, Anna and Nouri plunge madly into an intoxicating affair which, like most relationships based solely upon passion, is bound to be strained when reality sets in. In this novel, reality comes cruelly knocking with violent, apocalyptic fury.

For awhile, however, the couple exists in a  happy dream, as Anna, who had foundered all of her life, blossoms in the shelter of Nouri's love and in the affection of his family. She enjoys creating a luxurious abode for herself and her husband while shopping with her sister-in-law and going to elegant lunches and parties. The descriptions of Tehran in its glory days reminds me of similar stories of the last days of St. Petersburg before World War One or the summer of 1789 at Versailles, except that it occurs after I was born. What follows is to be expected, if one understands the history of revolutions, and how they are well-planned long before erupting, and yet for the tranquil life of the the Samedi family to be disturbed in any way seems obscenely outside the realm of possibility.

The debacles which turn the country upside down are a matter of public record which the author has keenly researched. Hellmann, however, gives us an inside look as only a good novelist can do. With Anna we enter the heart of darkness and despair, facing murder, betrayal, and a heartrending mystery. With her we also find the strength and the resourcefulness to survive. The novel captures a slice of recent history which many have already forgotten; it is a brilliant portrayal of existence in an Islamic dictatorship. I would recommend A Bitter Veil as a companion to such books as House of Sand and Fog and Reading Lolita in Tehran.

(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by the author's representative in exchange for my honest opinion.)



Matterhorn said...

Have you read 'Prisoner of Tehran' by Marina Nemat of Toronto? The author is actually a Catholic Russian/Iranian woman who writes of growing up during the Revolution and suffering terribly as a political prisoner while still a teenager.

johnny dangerous said...

I know Libby (we meet occasionally at events sponsored by the Midwest chapter of Mystery Writers of America) and I'm familiar with her earlier mysteries. Her last two books have really stepped up in complexity and insight. Good to see your positive review here.
John Desjarlais

elena maria vidal said...

No, M., I have not read it. Thanks for the recommendation!

Thank you, John!! Yes, Ms. Hellmann is a wonderful writer!