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Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith

Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith

4.8 6
by Gina B. Nahai

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One star-studded night, five-year-old Lili witnesses her mother, Roxanna the Angel, sprout wings and vanish into the sky, undisturbed by the rules of gravity. Roxanna leaves no farewell, no word of explanation, no trace of her existence. Lili's subsequent search for her mother-spurred by the tireless efforts of her aunt Miriam the Moon-is at the heart of this


One star-studded night, five-year-old Lili witnesses her mother, Roxanna the Angel, sprout wings and vanish into the sky, undisturbed by the rules of gravity. Roxanna leaves no farewell, no word of explanation, no trace of her existence. Lili's subsequent search for her mother-spurred by the tireless efforts of her aunt Miriam the Moon-is at the heart of this mesmerizing epic tale that follows Roxanna, born as a bad-luck child in the harsh Jewish ghetto of Tehran, through the opulent world of Iran's aristocracy, to the whorehouses of Turkey and beyond, to present-day Los Angeles. At stake are Roxanna's hopes for happiness, for escaping the bonds of Old World tradition and finding forgiveness for that most egregious of sins-desire. Weaving together strands of Persian and Jewish culture, Gina Nahai brings to life a courageous circle of women rooted in their homeland but reshaping their lives in America, the land of chances and choices.

Editorial Reviews

Edward Hower
In the tradition of magic realist fiction, winds from the spirit world often blow into the lives of ordinary people, touching them with unexpected joy or grief....A skilled and inventive writer, Nahai demonstrates...that even the darkest magic cannot defeat the extraordinary powers of love.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Iranian author Nahai's (Cry of the Peacock) richly embroidered, mythopoeic new novel is a tale worthy of Scheherazade. Miriam the Moon weaves for her niece Lili the spellbinding story of how Lili's mother, Roxanna the Angel, in the grip of a destiny she could not control, abandoned her five-year-old daughter without explanation and vanished into the Iranian night; she remained missing for the next 13 years. ("Free will and conscious decisions are mere inventions of minds too feeble to accept the reality of our absurd existence,'' Miriam tells Lily.) Beginning with Roxanna's birth in 1938 in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran, the narrative moves assuredly through her family's history and into her legend. At the time of her disappearance, in 1971, the point of view shifts from third to first person, the voice of Lili, the abandoned child. Six-year-old Lili is put on an airplane and sent off to a dreary Catholic boarding school in Pasadena, where she meets her guardian angel, a childhood friend of Roxanna's named Mercedez the Movie Star. Meanwhile, in Iran, the Shah's corrupt regime is overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and in the wave of Jewish persecution that follows, Miriam the Moon and her family flee to L.A. Eventually, Roxanna is spied in Turkey, and an affecting reunion with Lili ensues, although the ending, meant to be symbolic, does not quite ring true. The story moves along briskly, yet with a surreal edge, filled with characters who have such names as Alexandra the Cat and Jacob the Jello. The larger-than-life personalities of Roxanna and her family shine convincingly in the sections devoted to Iran, markedly less so when transplanted to L.A. Lili's struggle to know who she is, while fluidly rendered, lacks the resonance of Roxanna's, whose tale is marvelously compelling. 35,000 first printing; author tour; foreign rights sold to Germany, Sweden, Italy, the U.K., Greece and Holland. (Mar.)
Library Journal
A heady, sprawling tale of women, family, and country by the Iranian-born author of Cry of the Peacock (1991. o.p.), this novel is both mesmerizing and difficult in its portrayal of what to most Western readers will seem a hard, exotic society. Weaving together an impressive cast of characters and stories, it centers on Roxanna the Angel, the bad-luck daughter of a troubled family in Tehran's Jewish ghetto, and on her daughter, Lili, whom Roxanna abandons to an unsympathetic paternal household. The reader learns of Roxanna's history and of the mysterious power of flight that accompanies her need to escape the sorrow of this history, of Lili's nearly lethal anxiety for her mother, which maintains her through a lonely childhood and adolescence, and of the powerful attraction of freedom in spite of the hardships freedom can bring. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Shah and the flight of Iranian Jews to America, this unique mother-daughter story unfolds powerfully and unforgettably. Highly recommended.--Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews
Nahai (Cry of the Peacock, 1991) revisits Iran's Jewish community as she tells the moving if not always engrossing tale of one woman's struggle in a time of political turmoil. The saga of Roxanna begins in 1938 with her birth in Tehran's ghetto, and ends in 1980s Los Angeles. It is as much the story of a family increasingly affected by outside events as it is a low-key exploration of the conflict between destiny and choice. Nahai cuts early to the past, as the now-adult Lili recalls how, as a five-year-old, she saw her mother, Roxanna, grow wings and fly away. (Other clumsy flirtations with magical realism include sunflowers that give off light, sorrow that turns into body fat, and white feathers found after dreams of flight.) Warned that she is the "bad-luck one," the eight-year-old Roxanna is given away to Alexandra, an eccentric Russian refugee. After Alexandra's death, Roxanna flees the ghetto, but finds herself trapped by love in a house on the "Avenue of Faith." The house belongs to wealthy Teymur and his scheming wife, Fräulein Claude; Roxanna marries their son Sohrab in order to be close to Teymur, whom she really loves. When their affair is discovered, she's kept a prisoner in the house, and in desperation runs away, leaving Lili behind. Working first as a prostitute and then as kitchen help in Turkey, Sohrab sends Lili to school in Los Angeles. Then, as the Islamic revolution begins, Roxanna's sisters flee to L.A.-where Lili, still mourning her mother, is unwillingly united with them, and eventually even with Roxanna, now bloated with sorrow and regret. Lots of action, local color, and adventure, but not enough to give Roxanna's story the impact it demands. (Firstprinting of 35,000; author tour) .

From the Publisher
The Boston Globe Beautiful, exotic, and rich....We jump on the magic carpet, soar above the Avenue of Faith, satisfied to let this gifted storyteller weave her spell.

Los Angeles Times Entrancing...A voice that never loses its poise, that balances cynicism with hope, warmth Willi satire, hte heavy ballast of life Willi the exhilaration of being borne aloft.

The New York Times Book Review A skilled and inventive writer, Nahai demonstrates that even the darkest magic cannot defeat the extraordinary powers of love.

The New York Times Book Review A considerable talent. Nahai has achieved some wonderful effects, infusing everyday events with miraculous radiance.

The Boston Globe A testament to the power and beauty of Gina Nahai's writing and the world she so brilliantly illuminates.

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) A novel of stunning beauty and power....A supreme accomplishment. The magical realism so perfectly wrought by García Márquez has rarely been equaled, perhaps only by Toni Morrison in Song of Solomon and here in Nahai's novel.

The Orlando Sentinel A multigenerational story as intricate and richly hued as a Persian carpet. As she revealed in Cry of the Peacock, Nahai possesses an array of talents, all of which glitter in Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith. Nahai's writing recalls that of Gabriel García Márquez and Amy Tan, yet her prose bears its own stamp of inventiveness and vivacity...A modern-day Scheherazade.

Portland Oregonian A sprawling tapestry of a novel....Clear testimony to her skill as a storyteller, Gina B. Nahai works in elegant contrasts, the spellbinding extremes of the best of the magical realist tradition, conjuring a story that glows as if lit by a subtle, internal fire.

The Dallas Morning News A nice addition to the canon of magic realism....Ms. Nahai's lyrical command of her words carries through consistently. The book's effectiveness deepens into a powerful and surprising final chapter.

The Toronto Star Lyrical, beautiful....A languid, steamy read.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

From: The Ghetto She was born in 1938, the daughter of Shusha the Beautiful and her tailor husband, Rahman the Ruler. Her family lived in two rooms they rented from Shusha's mother -- the terrible and terrifying BeeBee, who owned three houses in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran and who rented them room by room to anyone desperate enough to put up with her unreasonable demands and Draconian rules. BeeBee made no exception for her own daughter, and many were those in the ghetto who quietly whispered that she had never forgiven Shusha even a week's rent.

The rooms were unpaved and windowless, constructed of mud and clay and connected to the courtyard by a narrow wooden door made of loose planks nailed together into a lopsided, squeaky shape. The first room was where Shusha slept with her husband, and where he worked as a tailor during the day. The second room served as the family's dining and living room, and as the children's bedroom.

The children slept next to each other on the floor -- five small bodies stretched out under a single comforter, limbs intertwined and skin so accustomed to the warmth of others, not one of them could have fallen asleep in a bed by themselves.

Once, when she was three years old, Roxanna awoke to a strange scent. She sat up on the sheet spread over the thin canvas rug that covered the dirt floor and that served as the only barrier between her and the insects that crawled in the dust. She was a tiny child, so thin and light her movement never disturbed anyone else. She reached over and awakened Miriam.

"I dreamt I was a bird," she said.

Miriam sighed and turned over. She was nine years old and had been caringfor her younger siblings all her life.

"Does something hurt?" she asked without opening her eyes.

"No. But I can't feel my legs."

Miriam felt Roxanna's forehead.

"You're not warm," she concluded. "Go back to sleep."

An hour later, Miriam woke up scared. She saw that Roxanna was in her own place. The other children were also sleeping. But the room, she realized, smelled strange: instead of the usual scent of skin and hair, of leftover food and old clothes and dry, unforgiving earth, Miriam the Moon smelled the sea.

She lit a candle and looked around. Nothing appeared out of place. Then she saw Roxanna: her hair was wet, her arms stretched to her sides, and she was afloat in a bed of white feathers.

Roxanna looked so calm and beautiful then, so immersed in her dreams of faraway mountains and emerald seas, that Miriam thought she would die if anyone awakened her. So she lay next to her, on that bed of feathers so white they looked almost blue in the moonlight, and hoped to dream her dreams.

Miriam saw the feathers many more times, smelled the Caspian so often in their city thousands of miles away from the sea, she thought some nights Roxanna was going to drown. Afraid of what would happen if anyone discovered the feathers, Miriam hid them inside the comforter. She split the seam open with her fingers and stuffed the feathers on top of the existing fill of cotton that was yellowed with age and thinned from use. But after a while the weight of Roxanna's secret became too heavy for Miriam to bear alone. Once, when the air in their room had become so humid it had turned into beads of moisture and was dripping off the roof onto the children's faces and hair, Miriam went to call her mother.

Shusha came barefoot and sleepy, her chador wrapped loosely around her waist, and for a moment stood above Roxanna without noticing the feathers.

"Look!" Miriam grabbed a fistful and held them close to Shusha's face. "Many nights I wake up and find these in her bed."

Shusha gasped as if she had been struck by lightning. Her body shook, only once, but with enough force that Miriam had to pull away from the impact. She saw the color run out of Shusha till her skin was transparent.

"Who else knows about this?" Shusha asked.

"No one." Miriam wished she had not called her. "I've been hiding them. I'm sure no one has a clue."

Just then Tala'at, Shusha's second daughter, stirred in her sleep. She ran her hand over her neck and chest, rubbing the sweat off her skin as she whispered hoarsely to an imaginary lover. She was only eight years old and had never had any contact with men outside her immediate family. But even then she was driven by lust, by the raw, uncompromised passion that would rule her adult life.

Shusha looked away from Tala'at and went outside. She sat on the steps that led from the bedroom down into the courtyard, then signaled for Miriam to sit next to her. She was a stunning woman -- dark skinned and dark eyed and so hauntingly beautiful she created a sense of confusion and sadness in anyone who saw her unveiled. But she had always seemed unaware, or perhaps ashamed, of her own beauty.

"Do you understand you can't tell anyone about the feathers?" she asked Miriam.

Miriam nodded.

"Do you know where they come from?"

Miriam began to answer, then stopped. They lived under a veil of silence then, a web of secrets spread over a thousand years, nurtured by a reverence for the power of the spoken word and a fear of its consequences. So Miriam did not speak, and Shusha did not tell Miriam what she knew so well: that the feathers in Roxanna's bed came from her dreams, that in them Roxanna was flying like a bird, or an angel, over a sea that was vast and limitless and that led her away from the tight borders of their ghetto, that the wings and the sea air spilled over the edge of the night sometimes, skipping the line between desire and truth, and poured into Roxanna's bed to speak of her longings.

Copyright © 1999 by Gina Barkhorder Nahai

Meet the Author

Gina B. Nahai, born in Iran and educated in Switzerland and the United States, is the author of the award-winning novel Cry of the Peacock. A frequent lecturer on Iranian Jewish history and the topic of exile, she has studied the politics of Iran for the U.S. Department of Defense. Currently teaching fiction writing at the University of Southern California's Master of Professional Writing program, Ms. Nahai lives with her family in Los Angeles.

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Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I had reservations when I started reading this for English class, I soon found myself swept away by the vivid story pieced together by Gina Nahai. The perfect balance and blend of fantasy and history made the book an fast, smooth read. Through the perspectives of a child and a woman, the reader is able to see Iran and LA in very different ways but with a connecting theme of magic, faith, and one's destiny. This is an absolutly wonderful read and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the opening line, to the last word you will be mesmerized. The author has greated a seamless blend of magical tales and folklore to the realities of a woman's, well, family's struggles with life in Iran. You will never want this book to end and you will be telling everyone you know how terrific it is. Truly a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
the most beautiful, mystical, inspirational book I have read in ages. Read it, enjoy it, lend it to a friend and then read it again!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Once I started, I couldn't put it down. Nahai takes you on a surreal journey through the pre-WWII Jewish ghettos of Iran clear up to modern day Los Angelas. What she portrays as maybe some not so realistic images hits home when understood from a childs point of view. The telling of this story is painful yet forgiving, sorrowful yet full of joy, magical, but at the same time full of reality when looked at from the Jewish prospective. What a lesson on how far reaching our choices are. Not only do they affect us, but they affect those we love as well. A wonderful work! I cried all the way through.