A review by nini23
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar


Set in the chaotic period post Iranian revolution, Shokoofeh Azar makes ample use of magical realism to express the suffering and silencing of the Iranian people. Ominous black snow falls, ghosts of political prisoners wander around crying. Khomeini is stuck in a palace of mirrors that he built. Jinns cavort & curse. A woman turns into a fish. The regime is so oppressive and brutal, the publishing of this book would have put the author's life in danger.

The book burning scene was painful. Oppressive governments always seem to follow the same script: round up the intellectuals & dissidents, elevate and roil up the peasantry, burn books, imprison, torture, kill, crack down on free press, blame the burgoise lifestyle, denounce the West. I like how Azar has included a true diverse variety of 'books that matter' (to be saved or recited from memory for posterity). All too often, in a fictional list of important or representative literature, only books written by the western world are featured showcasing the limitations of the author's reading scope. Azar is a bibliophile and wordsmith.

I love too how the book features an unabashed Iranian woman having joyous sex that she enjoys and masturbating. A rarity! There's also other defiant feminist threads like the mother's absolute refusal to wear a head covering.

Footnotes were useful for background information although I did look up some to further my knowledge; like the Arab invasion, revolution, poet Sohrab Sepheri, Nausea. A quibble here about the passage regarding the sister who turns into a fish but wonders if she's really a fish dreaming she's a human: this is blatantly lifted from Chuang Tzu's Butterfly Dream parable ('Am I a man dreaming I was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I am a man') and should be given proper attribution/citation.

It may sound like The Enlightment of the Greengage Tree is praised for its political message and the defiance it represents. However, even if one were completely apolitical, this work is still superlative in its writing and literary merit.

A rare solid 5 ⭐