Despite their status as well-off land-owners, Zari's family lacks real security, as is illustrated by the governor's wife's appropriation as "gifts" first of a pair of earrings and then of her son's horse. Her life revolves around her children, her house and garden, and a few close friends, with charitable visits to a women's prison and an asylum her only regular outings. Her husband Yusof is an idealist and a nationalist, however, and is drawn into complex and uncertain networks of intrigue and political discontent. The visitors to their house include his brother, who supports collaboration with the British, but also hot-headed tribal leaders of the Black Hat nomads.
There is plenty of drama and tension in Savushun, though it ebbs and flows rather than builds steadily. Much of it is in embedded stories: Zari's sister-in-law talks about the loss of her husband and son, the commander of an ambushed military convoy describes his lucky survival, the asylum inmates have their own stories, an Irish reporter retells a myth, and there are flashbacks to Zari's own schooldays.
It is the people rather than the plot which drives the novel, however, and it is their emotional lives that hold us. Zari is an attractive central protagonist and the peripheral figures are also compelling. They are all human in their failings, with no cardboard villains and even the scheming Ezzatoddowleh given an ultimately sympathetic rendering.
One of the best-known and loved Persian novels, Savushun may seem a little unusual to Western readers in its rhythms and its cultural assumptions. But that is of course part of the attraction.
Note: Savushun was originally published in 1969.
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