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.