Immigration and Loss in “The Last Days of Café Leila” by Donia Bijan

I picked up The Last Days of Café Leila by Donna Bijan based on a hope to find something engaging, well-written, and mature but clean. I was in need of a change of pace from the last couple of YA books I’d just finished. So, skimming the new part of the adult section at the library (while also trying to keep my toddler from pulling down shelves of books) I picked up this one, read the back, found out it partly took place in Tehran, and brought it home.

Since my senior year of college when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, a book that has forever changed my life, I have been especially interested by the middle east, and most especially Iran.

The main character of this book grew up in Iran, and then attended college in the United States and is living there when the book begins. As an immigrant to the US, Noor holds on to some of her family’s culture she has left behind, but also becomes thoroughly westernized in her ideals, way of living, and expectations of life.

Consequentially, when Noor returns to Iran with her US-born daughter Lily to visit Noor’s father after discovering her husband’s infidelity, she sees Iran with new eyes: the perfect lens for an American reader.

As Noor quickly sinks back into her childhood role, Lily struggles to transition to a new culture and environment, and their mother-daughter relationship is brought to an all-time low. As Noor attempts to salvage their relationship, she discovers the importance of standing your ground not only as a parent, but as an individual.

The Last Days of Café Leila is predominantly a story of family with underlying political undertones. While Noor and her father rekindle their relationship, we are brought to feel the tragic loss of beauty and common decency in the recovery stages of revolution.

These political undertones brought depth to this family drama, grounding the story in a very real setting.

While this book definitely had a pro-western bias, the fundamental themes of insecurity, the messiness of life, the difficulties of immigration and assimilation, and ultimately the sacrifice needed to achieve self-actualization were powerful.

This book consumed me until I had read every page. And while I loved the prose, I did feel that the ending left something to be desired. Ultimately, I would rate it a 7/10. I would recommend The Last Days of Café Leila, but I won’t be adding it to my personal collection.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading “Immigration and Loss in “The Last Days of Café Leila” by Donia Bijan”

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Welcome to “The Night Circus”

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has given me withdrawal. Since finishing it, I find myself pining after a story that has sadly ended. I know I should move on, but instead I spend keep thinking of all the nuances of the story, the characters, the writing.

The Night Circus is a beautifully crafted story of a circus, two magicians, romance, and fate. Written in first, second, and limited third person, The Night Circus brings the circus to life through the written word, with complex characters and a mysterious story line.

I loved the gorgeous prose. Each chapter and section of prose was carefully and purposely placed, bread crumbs that when added together create a beautiful and delicious cake (I know that’s not how it really works, but just roll with it). If you are in a rush to read, then it may seem a bit slow at first. But if you are in the mood to savor each lengthy, yet beautiful description with little thought for plot, this is the book for you. If you aren’t in the mood for a slow book, but you still want to read The Night Circus, then read the first third of it as quickly as you can, and enjoy the wonderfulness that is this book.

A large part of what makes this book so awesome is the characters. Morgenstern has done an excellent job of creating complex and realistic characters, many that we love, some that we hate, but all that we believe. The main characters Marco and Celia have unconventional childhoods, and we see how their upbringing affects the rest of their lives, allowing us to also understand their actions. Each side character is detailed in such a way as to allow us to get a good grasp of who they really are and how they are important in the story. Because each character, no matter how small their role, is incredibly important to the storyline. If a character is included, they are important.

I absolutely loved this book. While I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the journey was incredible enough that it made up for it, and I can’t say that much for a lot of books. Normally the ending makes or breaks a book for me.

The magic in this story is contagious, it refuses to stay contained within the pages it was written. I find myself thinking about the world of The Night Circus, wishing I could visit. If you are looking for a beautiful work of art with gorgeous descriptions, you will definitely enjoy this book.

**FYI: For those who are more sensitive to language, there is one strong swear word in the first chapter, but after that it is completely clean of swearing.**

 

Exploring Nigeria through Magical Realism

While my “jam,” so to say, lies with YA literature, I do my share of reading adult literature, and while I may not enjoy it as much, there is merit to many of these more mature novels. One such novel lies in the genre of magical realism. Critics tend to disagree on the fine points of this genre but the basic nature of magical realism usually involves magic being an accepted part of the world the characters live in – namely our world. Such is the case in Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road.

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This book delves into Nigeria in the late 1900’s following Azaro, an abiku child – a child who has made a pact with his friends in the spirit world to return as soon as possible (basically to die at the first chance) – who chooses to stay in the world of the living, kept here by his love for his family, especially his mother.  However, because of the promises he made before birth, his spirit friends will not let him go so easily and they send spirits after him to bring him back to them.  As Azaro struggles to stay with his family, the lines between the world of the living and the world of the spirits and of dreams becomes blurred and what becomes clear is that ours is not the only reality.

In this fascinating novel, Okri uses African beliefs to tell a story of humanity, of the corruption of greed and selfishness, the results of colonization and the need for unity if Nigeria is to become a stable and prosperous nation, and the bonds of family.

While I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in African culture or spirituality, I would caution that this novel is not for the faint of heart.  I personally found myself despairing at the lack of loyalty between characters, the depth of human greed, and the violence seen at the political rallies, not to mention the difficult narration of a boy who does not seem sure of much of what he sees or experiences.

Additionally, if you life solid, satisfying endings, this book may be one you wish to skip.  Ben Okri said in a n interview that he wants readers to finish his books but not finish them. (Below is a YouTube video of the interview).  And he writes this book’s ending that way – in a way that finishes the story and yet lets the reader know that the book is not really finished at all.