Disoriental
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Disoriental

Negar Djavadi, Tina Kover

Winner: Le Prix du Roman News, Style Prize, Lire Best Debut Novel 2016, la Porte Dorée Prize


Kimiâ Sadr fled Iran at the age of ten in the company of her mother and sisters to join her father in France. Now twenty-five and facing the future she has built for herself as well as the prospect of a new generation, Kimiâ is inundated by her own memories and the stories of her ancestors, which come to her in unstoppable, uncontainable waves. In the waiting room of a Parisian fertility clinic, generations of flamboyant Sadrs return to her, including her formidable great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, with his harem of fifty-two wives, and her parents, Darius and Sara, stalwart opponents of each regime that befalls them.

In this high-spirited, kaleidoscopic story, key moments of Iranian history, politics, and culture punctuate stories of family drama and triumph. Yet it is Kimiâ herself - punk-rock aficionado, storyteller extraordinaire, a Scheherazade of our time, and above all a modern woman divided between family traditions and her own “disorientalization” - who forms the heart of this bestselling and beloved novel.

Review

You can and will be tempted to read Disoriental in one very long sitting, well, at least Side A. Yes, Disoriental keeps you off balance from the first page of contents, a novel organised as an album. In this structure lies the scope of this wonderful first novel from Négar Djavadi, a polyphonic tale of one family, the Sadrs, and the Iran from which they are exiled. Footnotes, like liner notes, help the reader keep a foothold in digressions that layer upon one another as the story of Kimia Sadr and her family stretches across 20th century Iran and Europe.

Négar Djavadi is a screenwriter and this story of Kimia Sadr, sitting in a waiting room in an IVF clinic in France and recounting the last one hundred years of Iranian history through the stories of her family, has a cinematic quality.

As she begins each new tale the scene is set, Kimia in the drab waiting room fading into scenes made vivid by their dislocation in time from the present. Instead, we are now in a harem in Mazandaran, or sitting in an apartment with Kimia’s atheist parents watching French new wave cinema with their neighbours through a jerry rigged VCR. The tension is finely wrought as the effect of Kimia’s cascade of stories, of Uncles numbered 1 through 6, of a great grandfather with a Harem, share the stage with the secret police taking her parents into custody, and a bombed apartment.

This would be a wonderful book if it was simply Side A, but it is in the addition of Side B, as Kimia – a sound engineer – mentions is sometimes the case, that the emotional weight of so many voices and the singular experience of Kimia settle into a truly satisfying whole.


Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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