Mina is an unmarried twenty-five year old woman in business school. She long ago tucked away her passion for art to take the educational road her parents wanted for her despite the fact that she is beyond bored with the MBA classes. She also politely endures tea with Iranian-American strangers her mother's sources tell her would be a good match for Mina. After the latest matchmaking tea fails, Mina takes a look at her life and realizes that she needs to go back to Tehran to try and make sense of her current life, to understand who she is. Surprisingly, her mother Darya decides to accompany Mina back to Tehran. Darya has never adjusted to America as completely as her husband and children and she longs to see her family and the place she was so at home in her own skin. And so mother and daughter travel back to Iran to find it familiar but changed.
The second portion of the novel jumps back in time to 1978 and what it was like for Mina and her family living in Iran during the Revolution and the start of the Iran-Iraq War. Kamali brings a real sense of the place and time to the pages of the novel and how each change of regime irrevocably altered, in large and small ways, daily life in Tehran. The flashback to the past allows the reader to see the deep connections, the family bonds, and what those who chose to leave would say goodbye to when they left. And it also explains why the longing to go home is never quite gone for the people who left, those like Mina and Darya, who spend the rest of their lives living in the hyphen of a double-barreled identity.
And with that bit of history added to the characters of Mina and Darya, the novel shifts back to 1996 and the visit to Tehran where Mina feels almost as at sea as she ever has in the US. But it is amidst the oppressive political situation, the stolen and frenetic moments of gaiety, and the ever present sense of fear that Mina will stumble across a potential match, a man who never even crossed her mother's radar, but where she will also come to peace with who she is and what the hyphen between Iranian-American means to her and in her life.
Kamali has drawn a lovely portrait of a young woman searching not only for a partner but for herself. She has captured well the pressure of representing one culture to another, both through Persian Mina in the US and through American Mina representing the US to family and friends in Tehran. She has also done a good job showing the displacement and sadness that some older emigrants carry with them always, having left a piece of themselves and their hearts behind with family and friends when they leave. Having much of the narration center on Mina allows the reader to see Iranian culture now with the same sense of surprise that Mina feels. As she was not there to see how the culture changed, it is in some ways as foreign to her as it is to the reader. The flashback portion of the novel serves to deepen the reader's understanding of the losses suffered in war and to understand Darya a bit better. A sweet and lovely novel about the search for identity and for a partner who understands and knows the deepest part of you, this is also a charming story about resilience and love of all kinds and a sideways look at the politics and changes wrought in the venerable, old culture of Iran.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.