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Sunday Book Review: Caspian Rain

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Caspian Rain is a novel about longing and belonging.

Set just before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, 12-year-old Yaas narrates the story of her family – a family that’s just as divided as the country. Her father, Omid, is from a wealthy Jewish Tehranian family. He feels restricted by the rules dictated by the upper-class society, the rules imposed on him as a son and rules he must keep in order to not disgrace his family.

Her mother Bahar is from a poor Jewish family. Bahar dreams of continuing her education into a career, but when she meets Omid, a few years her senior, her family knows that this may be her only chance to change her fate in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran.

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Omid marries Bahar to thumb his nose at society and to spite his parents. Bahar, still a child when they marry, is naïve enough to think that she will be accepted easily by this upper class and that her new husband will allow her to have a career. But almost immediately after they get married, things fall apart. Omid grows more distant and refuses to allow Bahar to continue with school. He only wants a wife that will take care of his home and fulfill the wifely duties that are expected – love (and even sex) has no place in this equation.

Omid has already fallen in love with another woman. He cannot divorce Bahar for it will shame both their families. Bahar, on the other hand tries to please her husband and gain acceptance of their families by giving him a son. But instead, as another sign of failure, she gives birth to a daughter:

...Mr. Arbab [Omid's father] demands that his sons produce heirs, and his wife can't stand girls. It's one of the things she prides herself for--the fact that she has no daughters, she thinks, means that she's "chosen," that she's somehow better or more complete, or at least entitled to more, than most... ...Bahar cries to hard, the patients in the adjoining rooms request a transfer.

This is the world that Yaas has entered and where she will keep looking for acceptance. Through no fault of her own, the child has three strikes against her coming into her world: She was born a girl; she has a physically absent father and an emotionally absent mother.

Nahai's prose is one that is at once elegant and tinged with melancholy. (Although the use of the omniscient 12-year-old narrator was a little jarring at first, readers quickly see how that other-worldliness plays into one of the novel's plot points).The oppressiveness felt by both Omid and Bahar are palpable. It is Yaas's fate, however, that is the most wrenching.

Caspian Rain may not be for all readers, but it is an enlightening glimpse into an unfamiliar culture and society. While the societal constraints--especially against women--might be a little difficult for some to relate to, the family divided, sadly, is a theme that is universal.

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Gina B. Nahai is a professor of creative writing at USC and Caspian Rain is her fourth novel.