Forty Nights

Pirooz Jafari

Forty Nights
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Forty Nights

Pirooz Jafari

‘This haunting, magical novel spans centuries and continents, weaving together themes of migration, war, family, and the endurance of love against all odds. Captivating, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, Forty Nights is a testament to the transformative power of story, and Pirooz Jafari is an extraordinary storyteller.’ - Emily Bitto, author of The Strays and Wild Abandon

This story came to me and entered my soul. It did not need a key or an invite, for it already belonged. It walked in, shook my foundation and set my heart on fire. We danced around the flames and with every twirl, I grabbed a few words until I was burnt to ashes.

Tishtar runs a small legal practice in Melbourne where he has a new client, Habiba, who seeks to bring her orphan nieces to Australia from war-torn Somalia. He is also a migrant, having left the civil unrest in Iran to find a new life in a new country.

As Tishtar becomes consumed with Habiba’s tales of war-torn Somalia, his own childhood memories return and he reflects on the time he spent at his grandmother’s house to escape the atrocities that unravelled post the Islamic Revolution. While at his grandmother’s house he comes to know Gretel, another lost soul who has experienced a community torn apart by division. Tishtar embarks on a journey in search of peace - for Habiba, for Gretel, for himself.

Spanning continents and centuries, Forty Nights is a tale of the ongoing effects of dispossession and dislocation - a struggle humankind has faced long into its past. Ultimately it is the story of finding home, wherever that might be.

Review

Forty Nights opens with its central character, lawyer Tishtar, shopping for food in Sunshine near his office, remembering his childhood in Iran, and recalling how he learnt the traditions and stories of his homeland from his beloved Maman. It’s a well-set scene that places the character firmly in the bustling Melbourne suburb, yet reveals that Tishtar’s mind is wandering to other times and places. This idea of placement and displacement, and of living in the past and present simultaneously, extends throughout this novel, as debut author Pirooz Jafari takes readers from Melbourne and Geelong, Sydney and Wollongong, all the way to Tehran and Gotland, and from the present day right back to the 1300s.

At the heart of the novel is Tishtar’s current case: he is working to secure migration papers and visas for a client whose nieces are living dangerously and without proper supervision in Somalia. The desperation to secure safe passage to Australia and avoid the refugee camps, amidst Australia’s opaque legal requirements and long wait times to hear of any progress, grows apace. Alongside this contemporary story, we learn of Tishtar’s adolescence and young adulthood in his hometown of Tehran during the late 1970s and early 1980s, as a new and oppressive regime takes over from the progressive Iran that had flourished in the decades before. A mysterious character, Gretel, appears in both time periods, as well as a concurrent story set in the 1300s. It’s an ambitious sweep, but the themes that underpin this novel – the idea of home, the human right to cultural and physical safety and the right to seek refuge, the importance of family, the workings of memory, the act of storytelling as identity – are strong enough to tether the narrative, and bring the reader along on the author’s journey.

Forty Nights is a gently told story, sometimes describing great violence and injustices with a warmth and calm that belies its substance. This writerly approach teaches readers in turn about the generosity required to share stories of trauma.


Alison Huber is the head buyer at Readings.

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