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Septembers of Shiraz

Septembers of Shiraz

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by Dalia Sofer

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In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known.

As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches


In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known.

As Isaac navigates the tedium and terrors of prison, forging tenuous trusts, his wife feverishly searches for him, suspecting, all the while, that their once-trusted housekeeper has turned on them and is now acting as an informer. And as his daughter, in a childlike attempt to stop the wave of baseless arrests, engages in illicit activities, his son, sent to New York before the rise of the Ayatollahs, struggles to find happiness even as he realizes that his family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.

A page-turning literary debut, The Septembers of Shiraz simmers with questions of identity, alienation, and love, not simply for a spouse or a child, but for all the intangible sights and smells of the place we call home.

Editorial Reviews

Tara Bahrampour
Like Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir about the same period in Iran, this book's strength lies partly in Sofer's ability to characterize Iranians in any epoch: the obsession with saving face, the moments of sweetness between strangers, the interplay between Muslims and Jews that can be ugly or tender…The Septembers of Shiraz rises above being an ethnic novel about an intriguing place. It does not exoticize the Middle East or focus unduly on tempting targets such as women being forced to cover themselves or the persecution of Jews. These things exist, but they are part of a panoply of strangeness wrought upon everyone regardless of religion, gender or class. Instead, the book is about how people, in any country, live mostly without thinking about the political implications of their choices, and how they are taken by surprise when revolution or war crashes in. And how, even after the soul searching and the questions about whether they have led their lives the right way, they still care mostly about family, work, love and money. They are still, in the end, themselves.
—The Washington Post
Claire Messud
The Septembers of Shiraz is a remarkable debut: the richly evocative, powerfully affecting depiction of a prosperous Jewish family in Tehran shortly after the revolution. In this fickle literary world, it's impossible to predict whether Sofer's novel will become a classic, but it certainly stands a chance…Sofer writes beautifully, whether she's describing an old man's "wrinkled voice" or Shirin's irritation at wearing a head scarf, imagining "there are tiny elves inside…crumpling paper against her ears all day long." And she tells her characters' stories with deceptive simplicity. Every member of the Amin family attains a moving, and memorable, depth and reality. Although their crises—and the philosophical questions they raise—are of the greatest urgency and seriousness, The Septembers of Shiraz is miraculously light in its touch, as beautiful and delicate as a book about suffering can be.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Sofer's family escaped from Iran in 1982 when she was 10, an experience that may explain the intense detail of this unnerving debut. On a September day in 1981, gem trader Isaac Amin is accosted by Revolutionary Guards at his Tehran office and imprisoned for no other crime than being Jewish in a country where Muslim fanaticism is growing daily. Being rich and having had slender ties to the Shah's regime magnify his peril. In anguish over what might be happening to his family, Isaac watches the brutal mutilation and executions of prisoners around him. His wife, Farnaz, struggles to keep from slipping into despair, while his young daughter, Shirin, steals files from the home of a playmate whose father is in charge of the prison that holds her father. Far away in Brooklyn, Isaac's nonreligious son, Parviz, struggles without his family's money and falls for the pious daughter of his Hasidic landlord. Nicely layered, the story shimmers with past secrets and hidden motivations. The dialogue, while stiff, allows the various characters to come through. Sofer's dramatization of just-post-revolutionary Iran captures its small tensions and larger brutalities, which play vividly upon a family that cannot, even if it wishes to, conform. (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In Sofer's debut novel, Isaac Amin, a Jewish businessman in Tehran, is imprisoned following the Iranian Revolution. As Amin attempts to survive his brutal treatment and convince his captors that he is not a Zionist spy, his wife, young daughter, and son (a college student in New York City) find various ways to cope with the radical change in their way of life and the knowledge that they may never see Amin again. This is a story that needs to be told, as a reminder of how political and religious ideologies can destroy individuals, families, and societies. Yet the Amins are not portrayed as innocent victims but flawed human beings who closed their eyes to the injustices of the monarchy under which they benefited. The family and political issues raised in the book are timely and ripe for discussion; this should be a popular book club choice. Recommended for all public libraries.
—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman

Kirkus Reviews
An Iranian Jew waits wrongly accused in prison while his family slowly crumbles in Tehran and New York. In the wake of the Iranian Revolution, as the Ayatollah Khomeini's Republic is first being established, gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested near his opulent Tehran home. Technically accused of being an Israeli spy, Isaac's real crimes are his religion and his personal wealth. As his interrogators try to break him with physical abuse and neglect, Isaac is most tortured by the memories of his family, with whom he is allowed no contact. On the homefront, the situation is similarly bleak. Isaac's beloved wife Farnaz tirelessly seeks information about her husband, and in doing so, begins to question the loyalty of the family's trusted maid, Habibeh, whose son (a former employee of Isaac's) has become an ardent member of the Republic. Isaac and Farnaz's precocious young daughter, Shirin, decides to take matters into her own hands, risking the family's lives when she steals confidential files from a classmate's home in the hopes of saving her uncle from the same fate as her father. And, an ocean away, son Parviz feels the strains in different ways, when both information and money from his family suddenly stops. He takes a room and job with a welcoming Hassidic man in Brooklyn, and, against his better judgment, falls in love with the daughter, Rachel. Eventually, Isaac triumphs over his accusers by bribing his way out of prison with a gift of his life savings. But the family's troubles are hardly over, and as they try to make their way out of the country to reunite their family overseas, young Shirin's well-intentioned plan threatens to curtail all their efforts. Sofer's characters are immenselysympathetic and illustrate plainly and without pretense the global issues of class, religion and politics following the Iranian Revolution. As intelligent as it is gripping.
Lisa See
“Stunning—beautiful, tragic, layered, and thought-provoking.”
Dani Shapiro
“That this beautiful novel is a debut seems almost impossible . . . a remarkable emotional and intellectual achievement.”
Vendela Vida
“One of the most beautiful first novels I’ve ever come across. It is a rare book.”
Alison Smith
“Spare and deeply felt-Sofer’s prose shines with life and compassion.”
Joan Silber
“[A] beautiful novel--rich and exact in its depictions of one family’s ordeal in Iran after the Shah.”
New York Magazine
"Interest in Iran isn’t going away, and Sofer’s angle is bound to entice readers…a natural for book clubs."
“The pages of her debut novel...radiate rich, evocative, often painful details of her homeland.”
Weekly Standard
“…brave and humane first novel… exquisite and profoundly moving.”
Shelf Awareness
“A melancholic and tender tale, told with elegance, judgment and discrimination.”
Chicago Tribune
“The same seems true about talent, which Sofer clearly possesses in abundance.”
Reform Judaism
“…finely wrought…this novel captures in riveting images the prelude to the exodus of Iranian Jews.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Gripping work…a powerful story honestly told.”
Marie Claire
“First time novelist Dalia Sofer does the House of Sand and Fog one better by weaving a story from four perspectives, offering a unique glimpse into the emotional fallout from political upheaval and what it’s like to know you’re about to lose everything.”
World Magazine
“…beautifully written book suffused with human suffering and the longing for love and belonging…”
“[A] psychologically resonant debut.”
Miami Herald
“[A] gripping first novel...Sofer’s prose is lyrical and sometimes haunting.”
Financial Times
“…her elegant prose works magic…Sofer perfectly captures Iran’s transition to theocratic republic.”
Rocky Mountain News
“A powerful, timely book.” Grade: A-
New York magazine
“Interest in Iran isn’t going away, and Sofer’s angle is bound to entice readers…a natural for book clubs.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“In her gripping debut novel…Sofer creates a page-turner that leaves you wanting to know more.”
Wall Street Journal
“Dalia Sofer’s debut novel marks itself out as extraordinary…an impressive debut.”
The Jewish Daily Forward
“Sofer successfully uses the rich details of a sense-saturated country to emphasize how alone her characters feel despite an appearance of family and comfort…as Sofer elegantly demonstrates in this novel…the true survivor is one who learns to preserve his identity.”

Product Details

Gardners Books
Publication date:

Read an Excerpt

The Septembers of Shiraz

By Dalia Sofer

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Dalia Sofer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061130403

Chapter One

When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won't be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.

"Brother Amin?" the shorter of the men says.

Isaac nods. A few months ago they took his friend Kourosh Nassiri, and just weeks later news got around that Ali the baker had disappeared.

"We're here by orders of the Revolutionary Guards." The smaller man points his rifle directly at Isaac and walks toward him, his steps too long for his legs. "You are under arrest, Brother."

Isaac shuts the inventory notebook before him. He looks down at his desk, at the indifferent items witnessing this event—the scattered files, a metal paperweight, a box of Dunhill cigarettes, a crystal ashtray, and a cup of tea, freshly brewed, two mint leaves floating inside. His calendar is spread open and he stares at it, at today's date, September 20, 1981, at the notes scribbled on the page—call Mr. Nakamura regarding pearls, lunch at home, receive shipment of black opals from Australia around 3:00 PM, pick up shoes from cobbler—appointments he won't be keeping. On theopposite page is a glossy photo of the H¯afez mausoleum in Shiraz. Under it are the words, "City of Poets and Roses."

"May I see your papers?" Isaac asks.

"Papers?" the man chuckles. "Brother, don't concern yourself with papers."

The other man, silent until now, takes a few steps. "You are Brother Amin, correct?" he asks.


"Then please follow us."

He examines the rifles again, the short man's stubby finger already on the trigger, so he gets up, and with the two men makes his way down his five-story office building, which seems strangely deserted. In the morning he had noticed that only nine of his sixteen employees had come to work, but he had thought nothing of it; people had been unpredictable lately. Now he wonders where they are. Had they known?

As they reach the pavement he senses the sun spreading down his neck and back. He feels calm, almost numb, and he reminds himself he should remain so. A black motorcycle is parked by the curb, next to his own polished, emerald-green Jaguar. The small man smirks at the sleek automobile, then mounts his motorcycle, releases the brake, and ignites the engine. Isaac mounts next, with the second soldier behind him. "Hold on tight," the soldier says. Isaac's arms girdle the small man and the third man rests his hands on Isaac's waist. Sandwiched between the two he feels the bony back of one against his stomach and the belly of the other pushing into his back. The bitter smell of unwashed hair makes him gag. Turning his head to take a breath, he glimpses one of his employees, Morteza, frozen on the sidewalk like a bystander at a funeral procession.

The motorcycle swerves through the narrow spaces between jammed cars. He watches the city glide by, its transformation now so obvious to him: movie posters and shampoo advertisements have been replaced by sweeping murals of clerics; streets once named after kings now claim the revolution as their patron; and once-dapper men and women have become bearded shadows and black veils. The smell of kebab and charcoaled corn, rising from the street vendor's grill, fills the lunch hour. He had often treated himself to a hot skewer of lamb kebab here, sometimes bringing back two dozen for his employees, who would congregate in the kitchen, slide the tender meat off the skewers with slices of bread, and chew loudly. Isaac joined them from time to time, and while he could not allow himself to eat with equal abandon, he would be pleased for having initiated the gathering.

The vendor, fanning his grilled meat, looks at Isaac on the motorcycle, stupefied. Isaac looks back, but his captors pick up speed and he feels dizzy all of a sudden, ready to topple over. He locks his fingers around the driver's girth.

They stop at an unassuming gray building, dismount the bike, and enter. Greetings are exchanged among the revolutionaries and Isaac is led to a room smelling of sweat and feet. The room is small, maybe one-fifth the size of his living room, with mustard-yellow walls. He is seated on a bench, already filled with about a dozen men. He is squeezed between a middle-aged man and a young boy of sixteen or seventeen.

"I don't know how they keep adding more people on this bench," the man next to him mumbles, as though to himself but loudly enough for Isaac to hear. Isaac notices the man is wearing pajama pants with socks and shoes.

"How long have you been here?" he asks, deciding that the man's hostility has little to do with him.

"I'm not sure," says the man. "They came to my house in the middle of the night. My wife was hysterical. She insisted on making me a cheese sandwich before I left. I don't know what got into her. She cut the cheese, her hands shaking. She even put in some parsley and radishes. As she was about to hand me the sandwich one of the soldiers grabbed it from her, ate it in three or four bites, and said, 'Thanks, Sister. How did you know I was starving?'" Hearing this story makes Isaac feel fortunate; his family at least had been spared a similar scene. "This bench is killing my back," the man continues. "And they won't even let me use the bathroom."

Isaac rests his head against the wall. How odd that he should get arrested today of all days, when he was going to make up his long absences to his wife and daughter by joining them for lunch. For months he had been leaving the house at dawn, when the snow-covered Elburz Mountains slowly unveiled themselves in . . .


Excerpted from The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer Copyright © 2007 by Dalia Sofer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Alison Smith
“Spare and deeply felt-Sofer’s prose shines with life and compassion.”
Vendela Vida
“One of the most beautiful first novels I’ve ever come across. It is a rare book.”
Claire Messud
“A remarkable debut...richly evocative, powerfully affecting…as beautiful and delicate as a book about suffering can be.”
Lisa See
“Stunning—beautiful, tragic, layered, and thought-provoking.”
Joan Silber
“[A] beautiful novel—rich and exact in its depictions of one family’s ordeal in Iran after the Shah.”
Dani Shapiro
“That this beautiful novel is a debut seems almost impossible . . . a remarkable emotional and intellectual achievement.”

Meet the Author

Dalia Sofer was born in Iran and fled at the age of ten to the United States with her family. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and has been a resident at Yaddo. A graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College, she lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

New York, NY USA
Place of Birth:
Tehran, Iran
NYU, BA with major in French Literature and minor in Creative Writing; Sarah Lawrence College, MFA in Fiction

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