This first novel by Iranian born Négar Djavadi opens with twenty something Kimiâ Sadr in a Parisian fertility clinic. She’s spending her waiting time thinking back about her ancestors in Iran and her escape from the country at the age of ten. As Djavadi also arrived in Europe at a similar age it raises the question as to how much of the book is autobiographical.
It’s definitely a book of two parts. The first one, called Side A, is concerned with the history of Kamiâ’s family and the recent history of Iran. It tells of the deposition and exile of the Shah in 1979, and of the Sadr family’s reaction to it. Kimiâ’s parents, Darius and Sara, are outspoken in their opposition to both the Shah and his successor as head of state, Ayatollah Khomeini, and so are eventually forced to escape from the country on horseback to Turkey and eventually seek refuge in France. I found this part of the book rather difficult to get through. The family history going back to Kimiâ’s great grandfather and his fifty two wives is very complicated. My interest was only kept alive by the promise of the revelation of THE EVENT (sic) mentioned at the beginning of the book and said be a pivotal moment in Kimiâ’s life. When it is unveiled at the end of the novel, it is not very unexpected, although still shocking.
The second part of the story, Side B, is much more Kimiâ’s story and a more straightforward read about family relationships and Kimiâ’s life as an adult. But even in this part it’s quite difficult to sort out the chronology and follow Kimiâ’s travels and relationships. Overall, I found the lack of coherence in the book problematic and an impediment to my enjoyment of it. Yet there is a lot to admire especially political insights into the relationship between Iran and Western Europe over the years. It also raises questions about identity and the problems of living in exile. These include the need to disassociate oneself from one’s previous culture before being able to integrate. This and the many references to literature, film and music make it a particularly rich read and the wonderful translation from the French by Tina Kover is a definite plus.
Nevertheless, overall it’s a book I appreciated more in retrospect rather than while reading it.
Sue Glynn 3/4*
Disoriental by Négar Djavadi
978-1-78770-155-7 Europa Editions pbk May 2018