That’s how memories and knowledge were preserved in my house. They had to be smothered to stay alive.
Iranian Sheyda Porrouya knows how she will die. She will be hung, and as she says “I’ll submit to my destiny without a struggle. I will show them. I don’t like surprises. At least I know how and when. How many people have that luxury?” Growing up in an Iran cleansed of all things Western, to parents who remember their freedoms makes for a strange story. From the start the reader is well aware that Sheyda has murdered her mother, but the why isn’t solid. Much like her mind, we don’t land on anything stable- it is a tricky path we walk in her fractured telling. Through the past we learn of disturbing behaviors, from small thefts to bed wetting- something was deeply wrong from the start but why? At some point love sends her into a mad black hole, and what a strange love, first seeing him when she was only 10. If only the tranquility she felt with her ‘crush’ could save her from herself. Euphoric with love for the crippled man, Mustafa, who she has private classes with, her hungry need is doomed from the start. His tragedy seeps into her, poisoning her future. In repression, what else is there but fantasy?
Birds follow her through life, a symbol of what? Freedom she will never have. She spends too much time in therapy pretending, playing mind games. Is she a consummate liar or too intelligent? Deaths that take away not just her father, damaging an already bent mind, but expose her and her mother to her father’s secret life. The doctor not even aware when she is serious about her comments, or joking. Her hungry love seen as crushes, rather than soul defining passions, as with Mustafa -more infatuation, unhealthy obsession, fantasy. Is she suffering from madness? Is the madness just escapism, a way to survive the confinement women in Iran suffer?
Was it the solitude that created a strange girl? Was it the restrictions of Iran? Was it her parents own hunger for a more vibrant past? If only imagining yourself into a different life, into being a different person could truly happen. Maybe a split was necessary to escape her polluted mind, maybe repression creates monsters. Sheyda lives in fantasy, supplanting Mustafa’s dear face on other men, creating her own reality when any threat tries to claim what’s hers. If only she could believe in love others have for her. Maybe her father wasn’t so different in his deceptions, his other life… maybe her family is made of ‘storytellers’ and that’s a disease.
Her mother isn’t any less damaged for the wanting in her life, for the sacrifice of having a child and loving the wrong man and being trapped in the harsh world of Iran. Is Sheyda a murderous devil worshiper as she’s been pegged? Or is she, like her mother, resolved to find freedom within the loving sleep of death?
I was looking for something different to read, Sheyda’s misleading narrative is like a nightmare, or a fall into the void of self-delusions and then a light and your led to the truth. It took a while to enjoy the flow, because the beginning is like jumping into someone’s tormented mind but it begins to come together, and the final moments really moved me. In the end, Shyeda teaches that the truth is slippery, and for some a lie may be your only escape. The novel is as uniquely strange as the cover. Was she a blessing or a curse? It was a welcome break from my usual reading. From flinching in embarrassment over Sheyda’s odd behaviors and her mortifying passion for Mustafa to feeling empathy for a caged life, it’s hard not to understand why she would follow her mother’s ‘flight’.
Publication Date: October 1, 2017