After the Iranian revolution, anyone associated with the shah is viewed with suspicion. It is no surprise, then, one day in 1981, when the Revolutionary Guards descend upon the Tehran shop of Jewish gem trader Isaac Amin. Submitting without a struggle, Isaac is delivered into prison, where he is interrogated with increasing brutality until he accedes to the demands of his torturers.
Given his trade, Amin frequently travels to Israel, and it is those travels that are suspect. Is he the secret agent of the Mossad? Why does he travel so frequently? It doesnít help that Aminís brother is suspected of smuggling liquor over the border, a vice that is forbidden in the new regime, strict religious tenets now observed.
Left to ponder his predicament in his cell, Amin notices the other prisoners, some already badly mutilated by torture, others awaiting execution. Daily he hears the screams of those before the firing squad, praying only to be spared such a death. Isaacís only respite is remembering the early days of his marriage, the Septembers of Shiraz, when the affection of his wife was untainted by disappointment and the attrition of years.
Eventually Isaacís wife, Farnaz, hears of her husbandís detention for questioning. Although she searches for him, she receives no helpful information, her servant grown rude and unhelpful since the revolution. Farnaz falls into despair thinking of life without Isaac, navigating the days as if a sleepwalker.
Even nine-year-old Shirin is caught in the familyís sudden turmoil, not told directly of her fatherís incarceration but aware of her motherís distress. To alleviate her motherís anguish, Shirin keeps her fears to herself. Visiting the home of a friend, the girl discovers government files in the basement, secretly stealing a few at a time in hopes of saving the lives of those in the dossiers. When the Guards come to search the house for incriminating evidence, it is only by luck that they fail to dig up the garden where Shirin has buried the files.
In New York, Isaacís eldest son, Parviz, attends college classes while battling the depression of his loneliness, waiting for the check from Iran that never comes. Telephoning home, he is made aware of his fatherís predicament, told in code of the situation. Each family member endures this painful isolation, existing in a sort of stasis, unsure how to resolve their dilemma.
The need to escape their country is the painful truth that so defines the daily activities of each: Isaacís delivery into the hands of his torturers; Farnazí gradual acceptance of a changed future, vaguely threatened but unable to take action; Shirinís theft of the dossiers that may bring swift and brutal repercussions to her family; the once-loyal house servant who may be a spy; and Parvizí longing for family connections far from those he loves. Balancing the brutality of revolution with one familyís fragile hopes, Sofer illustrates the chaos and fear of a world turned upside down, the Amins driven to seek safety far from home.