Riveting tale about coming of age in Iran
Reviewed by Aradhika Sharma

A Teaspoon Of Earth And Sea
by Dina Nayeri
Allen and Dunwin.
Pages 423. Rs 399

A Teaspoon Of Earth And SeaThe author has written about Iran in the 1980s and tracks the coming of age of Saba Hafezi, who belongs to an affluent family in Cheshmeh, a small rice-growing Iranian village. The duality of Saba and her friends' lives is evident in their living in an Islamic state with increasingly fundamentalist values that limit women in all sorts of ways and the exposure Saba has had to the American lifestyle via glossy fashion magazines and music. Saba and her sister, Mahtab, are enchanted by America and all that it stands for.

One day Saba's mother and her twin sister disappear from her life forever. She thinks that Mahtab and her mother have fled to America, leaving her and her father in Iran but she knows that "twins will lead the same life" even if separated by continents and oceans. People say that they have died but Saba won't believe them. (The reader too does not know till the end if they have died or are in prison or are living immigrants’ lives in America). She tries to imagine Mahtab in her new life while she misses her at every breathing moment. She has imaginary conversations with her all the time.

After Mahtab vanishes, she shares the fascination for America with her two friends, Reza and Ponneh. The three young ones make lists of American words, read American magazines, watch American shows and listen to American music. In Saba’s imagination, coloured by TV shows (Family Ties, Growing Pains, The Wonder Years, and The Cosby Show), Mahtab is living a different and magical life, making America her own in small but sure steps. It is by living her twin's life in her imagination, that Saba can get strength to live her own, completely different life which requires immense perseverance, under the new Islamic regime.

Talking of the way the women were suddenly made to cover up from head to toe under the regime, Saba thinks: "They (the new government) shut up beautiful things in dark places, so no one can see…What you do when you want to douse a fire? You throw a big, heavy cloth over it, deprive it of oxygen."

The novel is the story of the transition from childhood to adulthood of Saba, Ponneh and Reza — the three characters who are not just great friends but at various points, even rather competitive with one another. Reza and Saba, for example, fall in love but Reza must marry Ponneh because they are better matched socially since Saba belongs to a higher and more prosperous family in the community. The viciousness of life under the Islamic system manifests in different ways, colouring the lives of the three friends.

Other major works have appeared every now and then about the transformation that Iran underwent after the 1979 revolution when the Shah was overthrown. For example, Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a narrative of how she feels a tension between the great and glorious past of the Persian Empire and the violence and problems of modern Iran. Another book is Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Iranian author and Professor Azar Nafisi. Here, Nafisi uses 'Lolita' as a metaphor for life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. While not in the same league, as these books, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, holds its own in terms of its characters, its stylishness and in the depiction of the glaring difference in the lifestyles begot by the Islamic ideology of post-revolution Iran and the freedom of choice and lifestyle for individuals in democratic America.