After the 1979 Islamic revolution, a bereaved family seek solace in the ancient forests of northern Iran, in Shokoofeh Azar’s International Booker-shortlisted novel
Revolutionary Guards pull a family off the road to check for forbidden items in their silver Buick; they find neither alcohol nor music but Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. After passing the copy around, they conclude that “politically, it was not a dangerous book”. The censors have been less forgiving of Shokoofeh Azar’s first novel for adults, which was banned in Iran, though many copies have been printed underground. It is now on the shortlist for the 2020 International Booker prize – a first for fiction translated from Farsi.
As signalled by the nod to García Márquez, the novel applies magic realism with a Persian twist to Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1979, focusing on one family destroyed by the upheaval. It opens in 1988 as a mother’s grief-driven epiphany at the top of a “greengage plum tree” coincides with the execution of her son, hanged without trial and dumped in a mass grave in the deserts south of Tehran – “one of fifteen thousand people … killed for their political beliefs in the 1980s, alone”. (...)