The Girl from the Garden

  • Review
By – May 19, 2015

In her debut nov­el, Par­naz Foroutan weaves a pow­er­ful tale of a Per­sian Jew­ish fam­i­ly, inspired by her own his­to­ry. Its nar­ra­tor, Maboubeh, is now an old woman liv­ing in Los Ange­les. She claims that This is a lone­li­ness named Los Ange­les… It is the place that eras­es all mem­o­ry of the past.” But she, the last liv­ing wit­ness to life in this gar­den in Iran, has not forgotten.

Tend­ing to her Cal­i­for­nia plants, she pats a tree trunk and says, This you must learn, that the word par­adise is a Far­si word. It means the space with­in enclosed walls, a cul­ti­vat­ed place set apart from the vast wilder­ness.’” Her par­adise was such an enclave in the city of Ker­man­sha. Her ances­tors migrat­ed there from Tehran, their sto­ry a fam­i­ly leg­end. The city is locat­ed in the west of Iran close to the bor­der of Iraq, on a com­mer­cial route between the two coun­tries. His­tor­i­cal­ly, the Jews were in a great minor­i­ty. There were nev­er more than a few thou­sand and by the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry only a hand­ful remained.

There were oth­er girls from the gar­den, and Maboubeh’s sto­ry would not be com­plete with­out them. Rakhel and Khor­sheed, mar­ried at fif­teen into the fam­i­ly to suc­cess­ful broth­ers Ash­er and Ibrahim. Liv­ing togeth­er inside their walled sanc­tu­ary was at once safe and priv­i­leged, but also con­trolled and com­pli­cat­ed. The expec­ta­tion to pro­duce heirs was imme­di­ate and intense. The fail­ure of one and the suc­cess of the oth­er begat many lives fraught with anger, jeal­ousy, elu­sive and heart-wrench­ing stolen love. The impact of all this upon the fam­i­ly is ulti­mate­ly its demise.

At every turn, through Maboubeh’s long­ing to recov­er her mem­o­ries, she reveals what actu­al­ly grew in this cul­ti­vat­ed par­adise. Her audi­ence is priv­i­leged to enter into her gar­den, lis­ten to her tale, and expe­ri­ence the life and tra­di­tions of Iran­ian Jews at that time and place. At the core of the nov­el is the char­ac­ters’ will to live respect­ful lives despite their iso­la­tion and per­se­cu­tion. The reward for sur­vival is to uphold and sus­tain the first order of being: devo­tion and loy­al­ty to fam­i­ly. Beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed, the nov­el is as much an emo­tion­al jour­ney as it is a time­ly and com­pelling exam­i­na­tion of human nature.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

Discussion Questions