The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar
PUBLISHED BY WILD DINGO PRESS
REVIEW BY CALLIE STEVEN
Born in Iran but now living in Perth, first-time author Shokoofeh Azar uses myth and magic realism to tell the story of the repercussions of the Islamic Revolution – with poignancy tinged with the joy of the everyday. This unusual and amazing book is told through the perspective of a young girl, and the focus is on her family and the way they, as well as the society around them, is affected by the changes wrought by modernisation and extremist religion.
The book opens with the execution without trial of the narrator’s brother Sohrab, one among many other men and women, for nothing more than their political or religious beliefs. Events then flit back in time to before this tragedy and the first signs of the revolution. Sensing and fearing the change, the family move from Tehran to the small village of Razan, hoping to escape the strict censure of the new regime. But even this backward, isolated town does not remain untouched for long.
At first this is a hard book to pin down: its non-linear structure and magical elements will likely frustrate many readers. Perseverance, however, is well rewarded. Interwoven with the central story of the family is that of many other characters. Myths, discussions with dead ancestors and other magical elements reveal the richness of the Iranian culture and classic Persian storytelling. There is a sense of endings, beginnings and the magic in between. The additional stories are used to both mask the horror of the revolution and to give them more impact. Occasionally the result is eviscerating.
Recurring throughout is the importance of books; what they can tell us and the way they can show us other worlds and ideas. In a country in upheaval, a revolution that sought to constrict and restrain, books are a haven and a way back to the old world left behind.
The ending brings all the threads together in a spectacular way, with everything finally making sense. Although there are many uplifting and humorous moments, the book is a forlorn memory of another time, and a family torn apart just as the country was.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.