‘Journalists and historians tell us what happened. Artists and novelists show us how it felt’. By this measure, ‘A Girl Called Rumi’ by Ari Honarvar is a success. I felt the stifling fear of post revolution Iran as the reader shares the experiences of young Kimia in 1981. The fascist morality squads chastising, beating and murdering young girls for running down a street or showing a bit of their hair is felt in the gut. The horror of bombs dropping from the sky with air raid sirens wailing had my hair stand up, and the sudden death or disappearance of neighbours and friends as victims of war or the totalitarian state give the reader a sense of the constant dread people lived under. And still do.
Contrasting to the horror is a joyous escape through art, poetry and myth. The strength of family, the wisdom of elders and seers, and the thousand years of Persian culture are all experienced. The story of the Seven Valleys of Love is a beautiful vehicle to share the power of imagination. Does it really happen? Is it magical realism or magical imagination? Either way, it is magical.
I live in North Vancouver where we have a large community of Iranian expats. During the 2022 uprising, I had a conversation with my dental assistant while I waited for some freezing. She told me how her, her mother and children had gotten out of Tehran, but her brother had not. The brother had two teenage children, a son and a daughter, and they lived in fear that one or both would be caught up in the protests and the repression that the regime was inflicting. That story so closely parallels the story of Rumi, Kimia and her brother Arman. I felt queasy reading the story. It is so real and accurate.
A quote by Simone Weil is so appropriate of the Iranian Ayatollah State: ‘There is one, and only one, thing in modern society more hideous than crime, namely, repressive justice.’
Honavar weaves layers of history, Sufism, art, and poetry. I had heard the name Rumi but knew little. Now I know more and have good reason to dig deeper. That such a place as Iran would call to the expats to return is so understandable.
I can picture the Hoopoe birds and the Simorgh. The vibrant colours, the sounds, smells and tastes. The book is a sensory experience well worth the time and effort of reading. Five stars.
Review of ‘A Girl Called Rumi’ by Ari Honarvar
writingCommunity #amwriting #writerslife #Writers #Authors @goodreads #bookreviews
September 7, 2023