Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' review of Caspian Rain.
Caspian Rain is a beautifully written book about the constraints of living in a Middle-Eastern culture. Focusing on the lives of two Jewish women living in Iran during the rule of the Shah, it is an intimate portrait of hope betrayed, lost, and regained.
The narrator, Yaas, begins the story with her mother, Bahar, on the day Bahar meets her father. Bahar is a girl of 16, filled with optimism and spirit in spite of the fact she comes from the Jewish slums of Tehran. Her husband-to-be, Omid, is from a wealthy family, but he woos Bahar in spite of the differences in social class, because he believes she will be undemanding. Omid takes a lover from the start of the marriage, and Behar's escape from the ghetto begins to seem like a trap.
Bahar is caught between her married life, where she is disgraced by Omid's flagrant affair, and her family's life back in the ghetto. Omid does not approve of Bahar's family, so she returns without him to the ghetto every Friday for Seder. There Bahar is back among the failed of her family: her father, who never made it as a rabbi; her mother, a terrible seamstress; her brother, who does not work and believes he will sing opera one day; her sister, married to an abusive husband; and "the ghost brother," the spirit of the son who died as a boy and haunts the family.
Bahar hopes that getting pregnant will return Omid to her, but when she gives birth to Yaas, her tragedy is nearly complete. Instead of a son to carry the family name, she bears a daughter who looks nothing like the father. Unwanted for her gender, looks, and disabilities, Yaas grows up to despair. The house her father's parents gave her family is in a neighborhood that, while not a ghetto, is not up to the standards of the wealthy. Between the neighbors and the eccentric maid, Yaas is surrounded by oddballs and beggars.
But as Yaas thinks back on her life, she decides that she would not stop her mother from going with her father, if she could. This would deny her mother the spirit it took to leave the ghetto and the brief snatches of happiness she experienced when she got married and again when Omid tried to reconcile with her by taking the family on vacation to the Caspian Sea. Nahai's message seems to be that in the end, life is what is, one must take the bad with the good. But she also seems to asking us to understand the few choices that were available to people such as the Jews of Tehren: to abandon one's family and past in order to pursue happiness, or to live for them, in order to uphold their honor.
This poignant story is very astute, both culturally and psychologically, and quite sad; all the characters suffer in one way or another (except Omid's aloof and beautiful mistress). The writing is lyrical, immersing the reader in life among the Jewish minority in Iran during 1960s and ‘70s. The action moves somewhat slowly at times, and I did not find the ending completely satisfying. However, Caspian Rain is still touching, and it is well worth reading for the experience of living in another world.