The Septembers of Shiraz

by Dalia Sofer

Hardcover, 2007




Ecco (2007), 340 pages


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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
In 1981 in Tehran, after the fall of the Shah, Isaac Amin, a Jewish rare gem dealer, is arrested, accused of being a spy. He isn’t really surprised at this turn of events because although the idea of his being a spy is ludicrous, he has watched as friends and other businessmen have disappeared, probably imprisoned or executed by the revolutionary Guard. All of these individuals have one thing in common: they lived well during the reign of the Shah.

Dalia Sofer’s debut novel, written in hauntingly beautiful prose, explores the effects of the Iranian Revolution on the general population and particularly, on one family. It is told through the view points of Amin, his wife Farnaz, his nine year old daughter Sharin and his teenage son, Parviz, who is going to school in New York. She very even-handedly articulates both sides and allows the reader to appreciate the revolution for what it was and why it was important to both sides. Additionally, by using multiple viewpoints, it was easy to observe the effects on all involved. When Isaac describes his experiences in prison, as horrifying as torture is, Sofer tempers it so that the reader knows exactly what is happening without dwelling on the act itself. It’s the only thing that makes that part readable and different from other books that include descriptions of torture.

As the family considers leaving the country they love, but don’t feel safe in anymore, feelings of heartbreak overwhelm.

Isaac thinks of the cities ahead of him---Ankara, Istanbul, Geneva, New York---and of the cities behind him---Tehran, where his home stands, empty now of life; Ramsar by the Caspian, its air filled with fog; Isfahan, with its domes of blue; Yazd, where brick alleys shelter its inhabitants from the daytime heat and nighttime freeze of the desert, and where the undying flame of Zoroastrians burns in a small urn of oil; and his beloved Shiraz, the city of his youthful summers, where he discovered both poetry and Farnaz, and where, along the mausoleums of the medieval poets Hafez and Sa’di, he recited verses, finding his future in them.” (Page 336)

We follow this family through a year filled with dismay and terror, ending with a dangerous flight to freedom and I, for one, was impressed with this strong debut. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Dalia Sofer’s debut novel, The Septembers of Shiraz, shows how detrimental the Iranian Revolution was for many of Iran’s citizens. Isaac Amin was a rare gem dealer who was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in September 1981. Isaac was Jewish and had prospered well under the Shah, which made him suspicious in the eyes of the new regime. He was transported to prison where he was questioned, tortured and accused of being a Zionist spy.

The story shifts from Isaac’s point of view to that of his wife, Farnaz; his young daughter, Shirin; and his son, Parviz, a college student living in New York. The alternating viewpoints showed how each family member dealt with the sudden disappearance of Isaac. With emotions ranging from fear to courage, the Amin family tried to manage their day-to-day lives without the presence of their patriarch.

I found The Septembers of Shiraz to be a captivating read. The Iranian Revolution is an unfamiliar topic for me, and the rigid conditions of this time make me wonder how anyone escaped arrest and execution. I rooted for each member of the Amin family as they struggled with Isaac’s imprisonment. Sofer’s writing style was lyrical yet approachable, drawing her readers into the story. If you are a fan of historical fiction, I would recommend this amazing story. I look forward to more books by this talented young author.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
While at times I found The Septembers of Shiraz a compelling read, ultimately I didn't find it very satisfying. Maybe I've read too many books about political oppression and torture all around the world in the last few years.

Sofer's story of the tribulations of Iranian-Jewish Amin family suffers, I think, from a third person omniscient viewpoint spread too thinly among the four members of Amin family: readers are not only privy to the thoughts and experiences of Isaac, a gem dealer arrested by the Revolutionary Guards, but also to his wife, Farnaz; his son Parviz, who has been sent to university in New York; and to his young daughter, Shirin. I generally appreciate multiple viewpoints in a novel, but here the shifting viewpoints seem to give the readers diluted characters and lessening tension.… (more)
LibraryThing member sensitivemuse
I felt for Farnaz and Shirin the most. They were alone with no information on Isaac. I thought Farnaz did her best to deal with Isaac’s arrest even though their marriage wasn’t exactly what you called perfect. I was very impressed how Shirin dealt with her father being arrested. Especially when she did hide those files. It might have made a difference and with that little act, it could have saved some lives.

The story was well written and did tug on a lot of emotions while reading. Isaac’s time in prison was filled with despair and you could feel his hope fading away as he counts the days of his time spent there. The book was filled with close calls, and immediate suspicion among characters as to who’s playing the role of informant. As a reader, you could really feel Shirin’s tension and fright over being exposed for what she’s done.

I wasn’t sure what to make on the separate story arc on Parviz. It was interesting as he was struggling with his own identity, yet I felt that it wasn’t as interesting as the main story arc that was taking place in Iran. I felt as if that story arc was added just for the sake of adding more to the plot.

Overall, the story is beautifully written and emotional. There is an inkling of hope at the end of the novel and the reader is only left with wonder at the outcome of the characters in the book. I do recommend others to read this book. There’s not many you see that takes place in Iran in this particular time in history.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
I wanted to like this book much more than I actually did, but I'm not exactly sure why. The subject matter of the book is interesting, the fate of a wealthy Jewish family after the fall of the Shah and the rise of the Republican Guard in Iran, and the writing has poetic moments.

The book has a strong opening. 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. Imprisoned for having accumulated wealth under the Shah, and the vague accusation of spying for Israel, Isaac suffers the vagaries and brutality of the new regime.

In alternating chapters we experience the viewpoints of other members of Isaac's family. His wife, Farnaz, is dissatisfied with her life, but rather unthinkingly enjoys the privileges of her position. Through her relationship with the family's housekeeper, Farnaz is made aware of the gap between her perceptions of class relationships and that of others. Parvis, Isaac's son, has been sent to New York in order to avoid being drafted into the army and fighting in the war with Iraq. Unhappy and adrift, Parvis contemplates his lack of direction and his apathy towards Judaism. The youngest member of the family, Shirin, is struggling to understand her father's disappearance.

I found the characters of Isaac and Parvis to be the most compelling. Isaac is reflective and honest, and Parvis is well-depicted as a young man in search of himself. Farnaz, however, fails to undergo any significant character development, which leaves her character rather flat. Shirin, on the other hand, seems to change too much too fast, from a rather naive little girl to the most daring member of her family in her resistance to the regime.

Based loosely on the author's own experiences, I thought the novel had a lot of potential. I just wasn't as engaged as the plot required. Perhaps because this is a first novel, perhaps because I wasn't in the right frame of mind when reading it, I was vaguely dissatisfied with what had the makings of a great novel.
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LibraryThing member kshaffar
A beautifully written story of a family escaping from the Iranian Revolution of the 1980s, if it hadn't been so sad, it would have been a joy to read. As it was, I feel like a bit of a better person for having read it.

Its characters were well wrought and believable, from the young son already in exile to the daughter who may not have a full comprehension of circumstances, but is sensitive enough to intuit that her life was about to change.

Reminiscent of a Holocaust tale where survival is a series of random coincidences, this story was told subtly and made all the more powerful for it. Dalia Sofer is a master of the hint and uses it generously, reminding us that torture and systematic discrimination are cycles that continue to plague us. Well done.
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LibraryThing member debnance
We read to go other places, to sample other lives. Reading, for me, at times lets me escape into lives I’d never want to lead, into places I’d never want to go. The Septembers of Shiraz takes me deep into these lives I’d never lead, places I’d never go. Isaac Amin, along with his wife, his young daughter, and even his son in distant America, suffer the changes revolution in Iran creates. The persecuted become the persecutors. There is no safe place. Fear and anger breed more fear and anger. Hatred generates more hatred. Amin’s imprisonment spins and bends everything the family has believed and loved. Is it wrong to overlook the cruelties inflicted on the weak? How do you decide whether to remain in a familiar now dangerous place or dare to start a new life from scratch? Should one save a few strangers while risking one’s family? I couldn’t stop reading this story. Would Amin live or die? Would the family stay or go? How had the pain inflicted on the jailers affect the way the jailers treated the jailed? Who were the good guys? How did the world become such a mess and how could it ever be made right? This was a powerful book, beautifully told, that generated question after question in my mind long after I read the last page and closed the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
In The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer paints a vivid emotional portrait of one familiy's struggle to cope when the father disappears and becomes a political prisoner. Set in Iran immediately after the Shah's regime, Isaac Amin is a Jewish jeweler who is arrested in his office. His wife, Farnaz, is not notified but quickly realizes what has happened; arrests such as Isaac's were quite common. The effect on her is devastating; she struggles to maintain "business and usual" in her household while fearing for her own life and that of her 9-year-old daughter, Shirin. Shirin acts out her fear, operating from limited information and a child's perspective. Meanwhile Isaac & Farnaz's son, Parviz, is attending a university in New York. He is lonely to begin with, and then overcome with helplessness at his inability to help his family.

If this story were only about Isaac, it would be a fairly typical novel of political imprisonment. But Sofer brings great depth not just to Isaac's character, but to his immediate and extended family. Her prose is wonderfully descriptive, such as this passage describing Isaac's dying father: The beads, she thinks, will outlive his hands. His wool robe, which he has owned as long as she has know himm, and before, will soon be folded and put away in a box, along with his hat, his good shoes, his pocket watch. What had allowed her to tolerate him, on that trip to Isfahan so long ago, was a single sentence. "Please make Isaac happy, Farnaz-jan, because we never did." With this sentence he had made her realize that despite all the things his character lacked, which were many, he possessed at least the capacity to admit who he was: a bad father.

During the Isaac's captivity, both he and Farnaz have ample opportunity to reflect on their lives together, which had become a bit stale. Isaac, reflecting on his successful business ventures, thinks to himself, All this, he had achieved, but the price had been a string of compromises, looped over one another like pearls, creating a life at once beautiful and frail. Slowly, all four family members come to terms with the importance of family, homeland, and ethnicity and the trade-offs necessary to preserve what they can.

An excellent book; highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member LaBibliophille
Dalia Sofer, the author of The Septembers of Shiraz, is an Iranian Jew who fled with her family to the United States at the age of ten. She writes with feeling for the country of Iran, and with the authority of someone who understands the terror of the uncertainty of life during a revolution.

Isaac Amin, the main character in The Septembers of Shiraz, is a wealthy Jewish gemologist and jeweler in post-revolutionary Tehran. As the novel opens, Isaac is arrested at his office, blindfolded, and imprisoned. His wife, Farnaz, and nine year old daughter, Shirin, have no idea where he has been taken. As Farnaz searches for Isaac, he is interrogated, tortured, and placed in solitary confinement.

Farnaz and Shirin attempt to continue with their lives. Isaac and Farnaz’s son, eighteen year old Parviz, has already been sent to study in New York. He is a tenant in the basement apartment of an Hasidic family in Brooklyn. He struggles to continue his schooling, while surviving without family support.

Isaac’s previous connections to the deposed Shah, though tenuous, leave him and his family in jeopardy. While he is imprisoned, the family home is searched. Isaac’s office is looted. Farnaz begins to suspect that Habibeh, the family’s long-time housekeeper, has stolen items from their home, as well as betrayed them to the revolution.

The Septembers of Shiraz is a moving depiction of a family whose very lives are on the edge. Throughout the book, I hoped that they would come through this ordeal alive, all the while knowing that they would never be the same.

I found this novel compelling, and easy to read, and highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This story is set in Iran shortly after the revolution (1980s). It tells of Issac Amin, a Jewish gemstone merchant who is arrested, held and tortured. It also tells the story of his wife (Farnaz) and young daughter (Shirin) who are coping not only with Issac's disappearance, but with the struggles of other family members dealing with the change in regime. And, Issac and Farnaz's son, Parviz, who has already emmigrated to America and is studying and facing his own struggles with love and life.

It is a primarily the story of a family separated by political events from each other, from previously trusted servants, from their sense of who they are and what their lives have meant.

My book club chose this one, and I was less than excited to read another book about the middle east -- there seem to be so many these days -- but this one was so rich and well written that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really, deeply cared whether the family was reunited in the end or not.......
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LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
The Septembers of Shiraz was an unexpected pleasure that really struck me with both its story and the beautiful writing. There may be more skillful writers out there, but the way this story is told is an ideal vessel for the interwoven stories of the people affected by the turbulent, violent changing Iranian governments in the mid-eighties. Ms. Sofer's words are spare and poetic, but not overly so. Not only is it the story of Isaac Amin, a gems dealer wrongly accused and jailed (and brutally beaten) for being a spy, but one of his daughter and wife, left behind to live in fear for his life and theirs. Another wonderful off-shoot is the story of the Americanized son Parviz, living in NYC for architecture college, and his landlords/neighbors, a devout Jewish family. The minor characters also shine, such as the maid, who while always friends with the wife, suddenly views her differently and has grown to hate her employer's past riches. The uneasy friendship treads new and very sad water. This book could easily get splintered and disoriented, but it doesn't. It is a beautiful "slice of life" medly of tales of persecution, change, escape and renewal, in various stages of development. I was very young during these events, but this novel makes it clear how little we know of the lives of people who suffer behind the global headlines. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member heathersblue
Beautiful. The writing in this novel is amazing as are the characters developed throughout.
LibraryThing member eejjennings
Lightly written story of a family's trauma during the Islamic Revolution when their father and husband, Isaac Amin, is taken to prison. The author describes each family member's reactions to this situation which helps the reader understand the setting from several perspectives. Although this is a novel, it is loosely based on the author's own experiences.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bbexlibris
I have already told you that I am Iran obsessed, right? Not just Iran, but also Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka...well, maybe just internationally obsessed. But this is the 4 book I have read from/ about Iran this year! I can't get enough, just can't. Okay on to the book!

After the Iranian revolution, the jewel dealer Isaac Amin is taken, arrested and does not know why other than that he is a Jew, with a family connection to Israel. Even though it would seems so, this is not a book of simply a prisoner wrongly accused. Isaac narrates some chapters and the others are narrated by the other members of his family, his wife, his young daughter and his son who is trying to make it in America. I felt that the interweaving of the different voices really made the novel. It broke up the prison scenes and showed life at the same time.

This was a great one. I loved reading it, and I loved thinking about the life of the people who lived in it. The writing is excellent, and I enjoyed the style as well. I have read that other bloggers thought the book emotionless, as if all the book were told in the same tone. I do not agree, I actually relied on the steady words of the narrators, on the calm tone of the pages. I felt that it was a voice of hope, that life will go on, things will change and suffering will be had, and yet there is a steady part in it all, a resiliency. I loved the voice of this novel.
I highly recommend The Septembers of Shiraz, uber-powerful book of resiliency in the midst of insanity. I wouldn't be surprised it something big happens with this one (ie a prize, a movie know something cool). enjoy.
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LibraryThing member sydamy
I really enjoyed this book. It takes place during the early days of the Iranian revolution, and follows the trials and traumas of a secular Jew and his family, both in Iran and abroad. The book is beautifully written.

It tackles a difficult period with thought and insight, as the author also fled Iran as a child. There is a calmness to the writing that is felt through the characters as they think and assess what is happening to them.
There are many books about this period in history, this is among the better ones.
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LibraryThing member FicusFan
This was a book for one of my RL book groups. It is set in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. The main character is the head of a Jewish family. He is a jeweler and rich. They are not religious Jews, but they are also not Muslim so the new regime targets them.

The POV Isaac Amin is arrested at his office one day. They don't say why or who is behind it. So begins his journey as a prisoner of the regime. He is moved around, interrogated and accused of being an Israeli spy. He visits Israel and has relatives in the Israeli army (all young Israeli males are in their Army). But they have nothing specific to charge that he has done wrong. He is housed with other men who have been arrested. He tries to work out what is the best thing to do to stay in the good graces of the guards and interrogators. Some of the other men and teens are taken out and shot, some are tortured and returned to the cell broken and bleeding.

The other thread of the book is his wife and daughter as they try to find out what happened to him, where he is, and if they can get him out. His wife Farnaz seems to be useless, she has a maid and normally does nothing. When Isaac is taken she becomes even more depressed. The new regime had already sapped her strength, and she just watched TV and drank. She waits months to tell his parents that he has been arrested.

His daughter Shirin tries to maintain her life at school. She ends up finding files the regime is compiling on those they want to arrest. They are hidden in the basement at a friend's house. Her friend's father is part of the regime. Shirin starts stealing them. While doing so she finds one for her uncle. Her meddling disrupts the friend's father and he loses his job. There is an investigation launched to find who stole the files.

There is also a grown son, Parviz, with his own thread. They sent him to the USA to avoid the draft. They don't want him to fight in the war with Iraq. He is going to college in NYC and lives in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn. He is struggling to survive, and yet thinks getting a job would be pointless. Somehow they had looked at universities in London and Paris and were going to buy him an apartment wherever he decided to go, but he was sent to the USA with no financial support. They are rich and just drift along with no sense of urgency or planning. It makes no sense.

We follow Parviz as as he drifts along. He has a Hasidic landlord whom finally forces Parviz to work for him. Parviz also starts to fall for his daughter, but of course its not possible because Parviz is not even religious let alone Hasidic. We see the committed close-knit religious family who have goals and priorities.

While in prison Isaac reminisces about his younger life and how he spent time in Shiraz. It becomes a symbol for freedom, lightness, love and laughter, but I have no idea why. It isn't really developed that well in the book. Isaac talks about it, but it isn't real for me.

The story follows the family as they deal with Isaac's imprisonment and his eventual release. It looks at the relationships they have with other family members, friends, and the poor Muslims who work for them or in shops they frequent. It was well written and flowed, but seemed to lack something. Perhaps there is no sense of drama, and some of the characters are not real, or interesting.

I enjoyed it but thought it could have been better. Not quite bland but in that neighborhood. Many of the characters just drifted along and didn't have a focus or a goal.
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LibraryThing member ShanLizLuv
More than just relevant...Just beautiful and wrenching.
LibraryThing member books4micks
A family struggles with the effects of the father's arrest in post-revolutionary Iran.
LibraryThing member not_another_mom
Beautifully written story of a Jewish family in Iran after the Revolution and their son who is attending school in New York. The father, a jeweller, is suspected of being a spy and is arrested and thrown into prison, and the family finds itself waiting, hoping for his release. I was particularly struck by the scenes of the father in prison, the other prisoners and conditions of prison, and the head jailer and his exchanges with Isaac (the father).… (more)
LibraryThing member hjsesq
Beautifully written story of how a extended Jewish family living in Iran (with a child in the school in New York) suffers after the Iranian revolution. Involves the children, parents, friends, neighbors and employees. It is difficult to put down and yet sometimes difficult to read, fearing what consequences the family may face next.… (more)
LibraryThing member jrepman
Story of a Jewish family in Tehran right after the revolution. Reminiscent of the Kite Runner.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
A moving story of a year in the life of an Iranian family in post-Shah Iran. This story weaves together the threads of one family's experiences when the father is imprisoned and tortured and the reverberations which resonate throughout three generations. The characters are so believable in all of their humanity, including their foibles, their strengths, their courage, and their fear. On a societal level there is a thread which addresses varied forms of faith, its true believers and its false ones. The human spirit is driven to survive, and it is amazing what a person can endure to do so.… (more)
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The Septembers of Shiraz is a story of a Jewish Iranian family, caught up in the wake of post-Iranian Revolution political turmoil as the father, Isaac, is accused of being a spy. He is sent to prison, without rights or recourse, and his wife and young daughter consequently also face suspicion by the authorities. Meanwhile their son Parviz is studying in America, removed from the political violence in Iran in some sense but also subject to it as he sees his family struggle.

It's a difficult book, to say the least. The books's implicit criticism of the new regime is brutal; Isaac once half-heartedly commends the shah to his cellmates as "you only got arrested if you actually did something. Awful as it was, the regime had a logic. This government simply wants to destroy human beings, regardless of what they may or may not have done. Its goal is to annihilate."

An overly simplistic contrast between the two political powers, and definitely a misrepresentation of what post-Revolution "goals" might have been. Nevertheless, the lack of nuance to Isaac's political opinions reveal his own lack of involvement - of any sort - with the government. His family is apolitical and not very religious, swept up in power struggles they don't understand. Yet the unrelenting force by which the regime operates disallows indifference; everyone, one way or another, will be caught up in its wake.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
considering the serious subject this was an easy book to read. while giving details on torture methods it was not gruesome. maybe that left the reader wanting more depth, but if it would be more graphic, it may be too hard to read. overall the characters was believable and the story had a good flow. switching the view from one character to the next kept me interested.… (more)
LibraryThing member CatieN
Iran, early 1980s. The Shah has been overthrown, and the rebels have taken over the country. Isaac Amin is a wealthy jeweler, Jewish in name only but that hardly matters to the rebels. As the book opens, Isaac is arrested at his office by the Revolutionary Guards. His wife Farnaz is at home awaiting his arrival for lunch. When he fails to show up, she realizes what has happened and is devastated, as is their 9-year-old daughter Shirin. Their son, 19-year-old Parviz, is attending college in New York City and has his own problems. The family's story is told in alternating chapters by all four. A fascinating read that places the political climate of Iran at that time in history on a personal level as it relates to one family. Strong themes of loyalty and betrayal, religion, capitalism, and familial love. Highly recommended.… (more)




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