Thursday, January 14, 2010

Review: The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther

Living in London, in a sort of exile from her Iranian girlhood, Maryam is married to an Englishman and has an adult daughter who is newly pregnant. When her late younger sister's youngest son is sent to England to live with her, his presence opens something in Maryam, a brutality and anger connected to her past. After she smacks Saeed's face and then sees Sara miscarry after she tries to console Saeed, Maryam flees to Iran to face that which she has so long ignored. The narrative splits and follows Sara as she tries to come to terms with the loss of her baby and her mother's flight and subsequent inaccessibility as well as following Maryam as she not only visits the city which she left so long ago but ultimately the tiny village where she spent so many happy summers as a child. While Sara tries to understand her mother from the things left behind, Maryam is facing the horror of her past, one which touched not only her but the love of her young life.

The writing in this is occasionally lovely and poetic but there are enough times where the narrative is unfortunately confused to counterbalance that. It often takes some doing to figure out which narrative the reader is following after abrupt jumps. There is quite a bit of potential here to say something about the immigrant experience but most of that is glossed over in favor of allowing Maryam to go home again so easily. The sense of place once Maryam returns to Iran is not as strong as it could be and the implication is that her father's rigidity and sense of right and wrong was far and away worse than society's own strictures so the idea of a universally Iranian experience is abandonned. Sara follows her mother to the tiny, remote village in an effort to understand her elusive mother but I'm not certain that that understanding ever happened. And Maryam's decisions as an older woman returned to Iran make her less sympathetic than I suspect the author intended. This novel is brimming with hurt and betrayal and people exiled from each other, from their homeland, from their heritage, from their potential. It was a bit frustrating to read but in the end was decent enough. Don't go into it looking for insight into Iranian culture. Rather take it from the perspective of a woman searching to understand and embrace her past even if that means shutting out her family.


  1. The premise of this novel sounds promising, but it sounds like it wasn't well developed. Thanks for the honest review!

  2. It sounded good, but ugh, doesn't sound like it was great as a whole. I think that I'll skip this one!

  3. I got a copy of this book recently through Bookmooch and I look forward to reading it. Sorry it wasn't a better experience for you. it's nice to see an honest review.
    Thanks for your input about reuse of book covers.

  4. The premise sounds promising and the cover is absolutely stunning, so I'm glad to have a little caution to counterbalance the positives. Thanks!

  5. The book sounds interesting. Looks like the writing was a big damper. I get put off my novels whose writing lacks imagination or puts me to sleep.


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