Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

Much of our knowledge of the Middle East, especially here in the US, is gleaned from tv news. This means that unless there are uprisings, terrible deaths, or atrocities, we don't know much about a place or a people outside our own country. This is certainly true of Iran. My own knowledge of Iranian or Persian culture is rather sparse. I remember when the Iraq-Iran war started and I went to high school with a girl who was Persian but I really still didn't know much beyond what the news showed. And I certainly didn't know or understand the in-between place that Iranians who emigrated to the US to escape the war occupied, that space, dash, or hyphen between Iranian-American, neither the one nor the other but somewhere  in between. Marjan Kamali's sweet novel, Together Tea, centers on a character living between these two identities, these two cultures, who is trying to be true to her heart and herself as she also tries to honor her culture.

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.

For more information about Marjan Kamali and the book check out her website, find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. Thank you for the insightful and helpful review! I had never heard of this book, but I think you outlined it quite eloquently. Sounds like a good read.

  2. "I certainly didn't know or understand the in-between place that Iranians who emigrated to the US to escape the war occupied, that space, dash, or hyphen between Iranian-American, neither the one nor the other but somewhere in between." What a lovely thought! This is really a very nice look at TOGETHER TEA. Thank you.

  3. Ooh, I love the theme of finding the perfect partner ... I think that is the part that intrigues me the most with this book.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.


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