Review: The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan

I found The Girl from the Garden to be an at times engrossing at other times frustrating novel. The glimpse into the lives of a Jewish family in Iran in the early parts of the 20th century is captivating: fear, obsession, jealousy, loyalty, faith and violence all mix together in the cloistered environment of the family enclave. It is a glimpse into a seemingly lost world full of mystery and joy, tragedy and love, faith and superstition.

But the jumping back and forth in time and the complex way this is narrated undermines much of the story. Whenever the story comes back to the present it slows down and loses its punch. The flashbacks carry all the power.

An interesting and promising debut novel but one I am of mixed feelings about.

My Goodreads rating: 3 of 5 stars (View all my Goodread reviews)

The Girl from the Garden Book Cover The Girl from the Garden
Parnaz Foroutan
18 August, 2015

A suspenseful debut novel of desire, obsession, power, and vulnerability, in which a crisis of inheritance leads to the downfall of a wealthy family of Persian Jews in early twentieth-century Iran For all his wealth and success, Asher Malacouti—the head of a prosperous Jewish family living in the Iranian town of Kermanshah—cannot have the one thing he desires above all: a son. His young wife, Rakhel, trapped in an oppressive marriage at a time when a woman's worth is measured by her fertility, is made desperate by her failure to conceive, and grows jealous and vindictive. Rakhel's despair is compounded by the pregnancy of her sister-in-law, Khorsheed, and by her husband's growing desire for Kokab, his cousin's wife. Frustrated by his own wife's inability to bear him an heir, Asher makes a fateful choice that will shatter the household and drive Rakhel to dark extremes to save herself and preserve her status within the family. Witnessed through the memories of the family's sole surviving daughter, Mahboubeh, now an elderly woman living in Los Angeles, The Girl from the Garden unfolds the complex, tragic history of the Malacouti family in a long-lost Iran of generations past. Haunting, suspenseful, and inspired by events in the author's own family, it is an evocative and poignant exploration of sacrifice, betrayal, and the indelible legacy of the families that forge us.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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  • But Kevin, the point was to disorient you, to allow you to feel the slowing down of time, the loss of identity, the total obliteration of self- after all, the narrator is going through dementia, for pete’s sake. And that says something about the entirety of the story, as the prologue indicates, too- that history, the telling of it, is subject to the fallibility of memory.
    But if you didn’t see this, and so many other readers failed to notice this point, then I guess it’s back to the drawing board. I’m glad you enjoyed the parts you did enjoy.

    • Hmm, I guess I didn’t connect those aspects in quite that way. Perhaps I Was impatient and failed to slow down enough to see how it all connected (wouldn’t be the first time). I did really enjoy the story and am glad I read the book.

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