Book Review: A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellmann

A Bitter VeilA Bitter Veil
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Allium Press of Chicago, April 2012
ISBN 978-0-9831938-1-4
Trade Paperback

Enter the Muslim world of Khomeini’s Iran. Good luck leaving. Especially if you are married to an Iranian male. And are American. A Bitter Veil takes you inside a country on the brink of cultural changes. Where a religion has decreed Western civilization and especially America, to be evil. Where corruption and power rules the everyday life of every person.

In 1977, Anna Schroder is attending college in Chicago when she meets an engineering student, Nouri Samedi, who hails from Iran. Friendship turns to love and passion and eventually marriage. They return to Nouri’s homeland to continue their life together. However, storm clouds have been gathering. Iran’s leader, the Shah, is a tyrant, and is slowly being forced out. When the Shah leaves and Khomeini assumes control, things from bad to worse. Anna’s life heads in a downward spiral as Islamic fascism slowly becomes the norm. She watches in horror as Nouri slowly succumbs to the new regime and her marriage, her existence is in peril. When Nouri is murdered and Anna is imprisoned, her only hope is to somehow escape and find the real killer.

This is not so much a murder mystery, although there is that aspect, but more of a spotlight on how a culture changed in the late seventies and early eighties. This includes actual events, such as the taking of the American Embassy by terrorists. The cultural shock is probably not atypical for those women who have married into Muslim life and found themselves trapped. Even though I knew what was going to happen in regards to Anna’s life in Iran I felt compelled to read further to see just how bad it could get. Hellmann did her homework to present some powerful writing. Everyone can learn a lesson from A Bitter Veil.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Review: The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi

The Age of Orphans
Laleh Khadivi
Bloomsbury, 2009
9781608190423
New trade paperback; won in “Caption This” contest from Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey

See them sleep, these sons of mine.

See them, nestled like loved ones, row after row, barrack after barrack, heads awash in the last brine of boyhood.

See them sleep, my army of sons, each suckled off a different teat and their tongues still wet with prayers to me.

See them sleep, these sons of mine, and though I am now shah, most majestic and supreme, I too was once a boy, sleeping and divine. A boy like them, beaten and bruised by the thick angry hands of a brutish baba, forced to run and hide in the folds of Maman’s belly until found again.

[…]

Now I am the notorious Commander Reza Khan, boorish and proud, a buxom beast, a king over all I see, and I let loose my two forked hooves to prance over the hearts and heads of whomever I desire. Now I am a figure, face and father. All of it once hidden in the skin of a sleeping boy who was once woken and once loved, now cast out and forever cold.

Capsule summary: A Kurdish boy is taken and raised by the Iranian army after his family is massacred. Years later, when he returns to his homeland to enforce the shah’s rule, his true self begins to re-emerge.

Capsule review: Heartbreaking, disturbing, and yet enlightening. The boy’s namelessness until the shah’s soldiers have scrubbed away his Kurd identity personalizes the repeated attempts during the 20th century to eradicate the Kurds, and the gradual renaissance of the Kurd within him when he returns to the land of his childhood embodies that people’s determination and resilience. Khadivi’s writing is forceful and poetic. I recommend The Age of Orphans to anyone with even a cursory interest in the complex cultural nexus of central Asia.

Reviewed by Laura Taylor, December 2011, on Beyond the Blurb; reprinted here with permission.