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The Girl from the Garden    by Parnaz Foroutan order for
Girl from the Garden
by Parnaz Foroutan
Order:  USA  Can
Ecco, 2015 (2015)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

With Iran so much in the news, not only is it welcome, but it seems necessary to get some idea of that country's culture. In The Girl from the Garden, author Foroutan gives us a glimpse of the early 20th-century there.

Through the memories of Mahboubeh, an old woman living in Los Angeles, we are taken back to her family's life in an Iranian town. They are Jewish, prosperous and respected by their Muslim neighbors. Unfortunately, the head of the family, Asher, does not have a son. Since in that society women were measured by their ability to have children, his wife, Rakhel, feels keenly the family's growing concern about this, especially since her sister-in-law and good friend is about to give birth. Their families live together with their mother-in-law in one compound. When the baby is born, and Rakhel still has not conceived, she is at a breaking point and lashes out the only way she can, at the women around her. When Asher finds himself desiring the wife of his cousin, his next steps change everyone's life.

In this society a woman's worth is little recognized. Only the old mother-in-law's word carries some weight with her sons. When the men make poor decisions for the women, the women are punished twice over. Because of this there is much in this novel that is quite brutal. At the same time there is beauty and grace in, for example, the descriptions of Mahboubeh's garden and the way the women treat each other in their victimhood.

Mahboubeh herself was a bit of a problem for me. The story faded from her in her garden to the past time and back in such a way that there was often a loss of clarity. At times, though, the change was another thing of beauty. For me it would have been more helpful to have fewer of those time changes.

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