A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellman – Book Review

A Bitter Veil by Libby Fischer Hellman
Published by Allium Press of Chicago

At college in Chicago in 1977, Anna meets the handsome and charming Nouri. Nouri is Iranian, worried about the future of his country. Many students – Nouri included – are protesting the Shah, although even in America they must be wary of the Shah and SAVAK. Despite the turmoil, Nouri is looking forward to returning to his home country after graduation, and he wants to take Anna with him as his wife. At first their life together in Iran is good, lubricated by the wealth accumulated by Nouri’s father and the family’s social standing. They have arrived in Iran at a turbulent time, however, and before long being American becomes a liability for Anna, and being married to an American becomes a liability for Nouri. As the stability of the country starts to disintigrate, so does Nouri and Anna’s marriage, until finally she is accused of his murder.

A Bitter Veil takes a unique look at the Iranian Revolution. Anna is particularly vulnerable in Iran in this period, because she has no support system beyond that of her husband’s family and when he turns against her there is not much that they can do. It is very easy for an American reader to relate to Anna, there is a good deal of tension, as readers know what is coming in Iran, with the Ayatollah coming into power.

There are times early on when the writing of A Bitter Veil is ever so slightly uneven, but Hellman soon settles into a rhythm, and the story she is telling draws the reader in enough that they will not notice any further unevenness.

Overall, A Bitter Veil is a fascinating and engaging book. Recommended

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Source: Borrowed.
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Maman’s Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan – Book Review

Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Pub

From the publisher:

For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.

I was expecting Bijan’s memoir to focus more directly on her mother based on the title. There was definitely a strong thread about her parents and their life in Iran and attempts to adjust to life in America. However, more than anything, Maman’s Homesick Pie is about Bijan herself, how she came to create her unique blend of Persian, American, and French food.

Despite Maman’s Homesick Pie not being what I expected, it was still a lovely, heartfelt memoir. It is a slim tome, so Bijan does not always go into great depth of detail about people, places, or events, but what she does write is so evocative, that the sparseness of some of the details doesn’t really matter.

Foodies and those who love stories about identity will greatly enjoy Maman’s Homesick Pie.

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Source: Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
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The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad – Book Review

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

In the tribal area between Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, marital fidelity is highly prized, especially in women. When a man and a woman show up at a remote outpost clearly on the run from an angry father or husband they are granted permission to live there for a time, but also told they will be given no protection if a time comes when such protection would be necessary. It is their son who will become Tor Baz, the eponymous “Wandering Falcon.” Tor Baz’s wanderings through this foreboding borderland become the basis for exploring a number of stories of those in the tribal lands.

The Wandering Falcon is a unique book, it would perhaps best be described as a book of linked stories, but unlike other books of linked stories, such as A Visit From the Goon Squad, there is a single character in The Wandering Falcon whose life and exploits tie together the disparate stories in what seems to be chronological order. In this case the form works extremely well by giving a flavor of the variety of experiences in these tribal lands while still having a single unifying thread to keep the reader engaged. Interestingly, Tor Baz’s importance varies from story to story; at times he is so minor that he could almost be missed, at others he is an integral part of the story being told.

Ahmad is uniquely qualified to write a book like The Wandering Falcon. He has worked for many years for the government of Pakistan, mostly in areas of frontier management. The language of The Wandering Falcon is beautiful, particularly for the heart and humanity so evident in the stories being told. Highly recommended.

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The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva – Book Review

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva
Published by Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin

When an art restorer is shot in his home in the middle of a summer rash with art theft, it seems to be no more than a robbery gone wrong. Unfortunately, that proves not to be the case. A valuable, almost unknown Rembrandt is missing. There’s too much at stake to make this public knowledge, so the art dealer who has been in possession of the Rembrandt contacts his old friend Gabriel Allon, an art restorer and retired Israeli spy and assassin. As Gabriel begins to investigate the history of the painting, he discovers it has a very dicey provenance, disappearing from the possession of a Jewish man in Amsterdam during World War II. This history makes things personal for Gabriel, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to find this painting and get to the bottom of the theft.

What a smart thriller! One thing I really appreciated is that Silva does not treat his readers as if they were stupid. One thing that drives me crazy about a lot of thrillers is that authors often write unnecessarily short chapters with ridiculous cliffhangers in order to keep the story moving. Sometimes it works, but oftentimes it is simply obnoxious. Silva does not indulge in any of that. His chapters are as long as they need to be, without any manufactured drama. It made me feel as if Silva valued my intelligence as a reader. Yes, it meant that “The Rembrandt Affair” started more slowly than many thrillers, but Silva built suspense organically, the tension growing as Gabriel got deeper into the case. Indeed, every time I picked up the book, it grew more and more difficult to put it back down.

Gabriel, by the way, is my new favorite spy. Yes, he’s an assassin, but he’s an assassin with a conscious. Plus, he is a cultured, sophisticated art restorer – and this is a real passion, not simply his cover. And he’s in a monogamous relationship, so no oh-so-predictable sexual tension between the main character and the woman he must work with, which was refreshing for a change.

Let me also just say, this is one of the most beautiful hardcover books I’ve seen in some time. The art on the inside of the front and back covers was lovely, and the page before the title page was gorgeous, looking as if it had been painted, with texture so realistic I could almost feel it. And the paper it was printed on was rapturous. Yes, I know, that sounds far too strong a word for paper, but it was so incredibly thick and luxurious that every time I turned the page I stopped and thumbed the page. Actually, I was a bit worried when I first saw the book, because I assumed from the heft that it was well over 700 pages, but it was really just under 500 pages of wonderfully thick paper.

A great, smart thriller in an absolutely beautiful package. Personally I can’t wait to get my hands on more books from the Gabriel Allon series. Highly recommended.

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This review was done with a book received from Lydia at Putnam.
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