Here comes the review of my book published by MidWest Review:
Climbing Over Grit
Marzeeh Laleh Chini & Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi
l’Aleph (Wisehouse, Publisher)
In Shiraz, Iran in 1954, three-year-old Najma outwardly appears to have everything that she materially needs. There are many psychological things lacking in her life, however, and as Climbing Over Grit reflects on these obstacles and losses, readers are treated to a compelling novel that reads like a memoir as Najma relates her life in Iran and changing political and family dynamics during volatile times.
There’s no better way of absorbing a country’s culture, perspectives, and history than through a novel well steeped in not only changing social events, but the observations and psyches of those who lived through them. Najma’s recollections begin at home and move outward, and so readers are treated to a compelling scenario that starts at the intersection of adult realization and a child’s experiences: “If you ask anyone what would make one a good father, most of them would say one who gives love, attention, and time and is tolerant. I understood the difference between education and knowledge ever since I was a child. Money or education never turns a man into a good father. Yes, my father was an educated man, but knowledge was something he did not have. He did not know anything about love, he did not know anything about caring, and I am certain, he did not know a thing about tolerance.”
Forced into an abusive marriage and motherhood at age eleven, Najma is only following the customs of her people and the common experiences shared by many women who live in Iran; but against the backdrop of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq, everything is changing.
Perhaps it’s because Climbing Over Grit is based on a true story; but its characters, events, and setting feature a realistic immediacy to their tone and presentation that draws readers into a land most will find very foreign, but accessible through Najma’s experiences.
It’s that personal touch, and the fact that Marzeeh Laleh Chini & Abnoos Mosleh-Shirazi takes time to explore the lives of various men and women in Iran without succumbing to stereotypes, that brings this story to life. Najma’s heritage and her mother’s experience with wealth and power are reviewed as a precursor to her own choices (or lack of them), creating a powerful foundation for understanding some of the dynamics that can occur not only between political entities, but within families: “Usually in a marriage you do not compare or try to compete with each other, but to my mother, she was lagging far behind. Instead of enjoying the successes in her life, she started to get jealous or maybe tired of my father’s huge achievements. He was extremely successful. So, she had to do something, or she would lose in the competition between them, which was in her head.”
Starkly powerful are the descriptions of abuse and how a young battered wife handles her situation in this culture: “I wondered who he hit before he married me. Or maybe he saved all his power for his wife. I guess he should have married a punching bag instead. It was very important for me to show others that we were doing well; I wanted to fit in with his family. Pretending like we were happy was the only happiness I could feel.”
As readers become immersed in Najma’s life and times, they absorb a healthy dose of Iranian experience and culture in a story that personalizes the political and brings it home. Passages which weave her political perceptions with her heritage and the latest generation’s changing beliefs and experiences are very nicely crafted: “I remembered the damage my parents caused to us older kids by having too many kids, and now we were doing it to our kids too. We accepted the blame and went on with our lives. There was nothing I could do. I was ashamed. With my being pregnant, the country’s being at war, and small political groups’ being secretly active, I felt very bad, confused.”
Readers seeking a broader understanding of Iranian history and culture through the eyes of a young woman who comes of age to reflect on the hopes and despair of a new generation facing war will find Climbing Over Grit compelling, absorbing, and hard to put down. Its story of challenged lifestyles, broken families, and social and political challenges holds no pat conclusion, but mirrors the changes, confusion, and dreams of a nation and individuals under siege.
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