Competition published on January 13, 2017.
In the early 1920s in the remote village of Ghamsar, Talla and Sardar, two teenagers dreaming of a better life, fall in love and marry. Sardar brings his young bride with him across the mountains to the suburbs of Tehran, where the couple settles down and builds a home. From the outskirts of the capital city, they will watch as the Qajar dynasty falls and Reza Khan rises to power as Reza Shah Pahlavi. Into this family of illiterate shepherds is born Bahram, a boy whose brilliance and intellectual promise are apparent from a very young age. Through his education, Bahram will become a fervent follower of reformer Mohamed Mossadegh and will participate first hand in his country’s political and social upheavals.
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter.
**We have 3 copies available to give away – scroll down for your chance to win!**
Reviewer Paul Burke was impressed:
From the first few sentences of this warm and intelligent novel, beautifully translated by Adriana Hunter, I was captivated by the elegance of the prose, the wonderfully descriptive narrative and the enduring story of Talla, Sardar and their son Bahram. A family saga of exceptional quality…
…The Gardens of Consolation is a very assured début; often first time novelists seek to impress with their knowledge, where as Reza seamlessly tells her story. The crucial historical context comes alive in the text through the characters, the research is worn lightly, not overpowering the narrative. It is no surprise that this novel won the ‘Prix Senghor’ in 2015, (a prestigious prize for Francophone literature since 2006).
Read Paul’s fantastic review in full here and find out why we think this is ‘one to watch out for’.
We suspected Paul would want to know more so we asked him to come up with some questions for Parisa:
PB: Even a very good novel can be lost in translation. Can you tell us a little about the process of working with Adriana Hunter on translating your work to ensure that the essence of the novel is conveyed?
PR: We didn’t need to work together for Adriana Hunter to translate The Gardens of Consolation extremely well. This is surely because she grasped the spirit of this novel very quickly and understood its essence.
History, or maybe I should say the ‘past’ talks to us more about ourselves than we realise, in reading your novel I was reminded of that. How important do you feel examining the past is, as you do in the novel, in understanding the present?
You’re right, it’s absolutely Freudian. We cannot move past our knowledge of the past to understand the present. In reality, current events touch me very little, because when they happen it’s already too late! The state of the world today, and particularly that of the Middle East, is the legacy of a whole heap of events that took place there during the 20th century. Throughout the last century, heterogeneous socio-political elements were mixed up there in a fairly experimental way, and the mixture proved to be explosive. A sort of forced tackling of traditional and modern cultures and values. Nevertheless, in places there was a cementing, and something insoluble remained on the surface, rejected by the body like a graft… The thesis of hurried modernization created its antitheses, and while waiting for the synthesis, or rather for it to be able to be produced, I hope that we will untangle the knots to understand…
Congratulations on winning the ‘Prix Senghor’ for this novel. Do you think there is more recognition for women writers in world literature now?
What matters to me is the quality of a work independent of the author’s gender. Once this agreement has been fulfilled, I am enchanted by the diversity of outlooks on life, between those of men and those of women, that has enriched world literature, stemming from the fact that women are writing more and more.
Your novel is a door into Iranian culture and history. Europeans tend to have certain common world views. Did you intend to convey that essentially life is a common experience for people; love, pain, happiness, death?
I am one of the more Western people from the East. This is not something I chose but rather the way I was raised. Nevertheless, I have grown up in Iranian society and I remain in touch with it. As a result, I necessarily do not have the same point of view as a European, in the proper sense of the word. Today there is a dominant globalized culture, whether you choose to join it or not, in the end it is merely a question of form. The content remains the same; we are all equally strong and fragile, just as stupid as we are marvelous, and all of our preoccupations are those that you have very fittingly listed: love, pain, happiness, death…
A theme of the novel is engagement; with each other, with society and political change. Also events have an inevitable effect on life, not always immediately and not always knowingly, the juxtaposition of maintaining normality in life versus experience. Should we be more aware of what governs our lives?
It is very difficult to have a globalized and transcendent vision of the world if life doesn’t force you to. Naturally, the management of daily responsibilities takes precedence over everything else. And fortunately so! Because if men are made by events, by the great disruptions of society, if these are what make them give the best and the worst of themselves, there is a price to pay for this and we can’t expect everyone to wish for it. Sometimes, it is better to watch the characters in a book do it in your place!
I find myself wondering about the future of the characters. Are you tempted to take the story forward; downfall of the Shah, The Ayatollahs, modern Iran? Or will your next novel be altogether different?
My next book will be published in France in March 2017. It is different from The Gardens of Consolation, but some of the same characters can be found in it. It is about the next generation, which developed during the 1970s, the ten years that came before the Iranian revolution. The book ends a month before the Shah’s downfall. I personally think that it is too early to talk about the post-revolutionary period, we are not yet objective about it, the feelings and resentments cloud our vision and keep us from being able to inspect the constituent elements. We still have to wait a few more years.
Many works by émigré writers have an axe to grind about conditions in the homeland, local politics or religion. I don’t feel this with your novel I sense a celebration of the people of Iran and a tribute to their humanity. Is this a fair interpretation?
I believe that we need to force ourselves to separate personal history, as painful as it may be, from the history of a country or of a whole population. I believe that the things that bother us, as you say, about the homeland and its politics, its religion, don’t fall from the sky, are not born of nothing. They find their roots in the country itself. If you take a step back you notice that everyone bears a portion of the responsibility, no matter how insignificant they may be. Wouldn’t it be because, out of conformity, out of contempt, out of hatred, we rarely seek out the opposition in a timely manner, in order to attempt to establish a dialogue…
And then, I deeply love the sweetness of Iranian life, its art of the ritual, its courtesy and conviviality.
Do you consider living in Iran and then France gives you different perspectives. Do you have a French view and an Iranian view that influence your writing and insight? Or do you have to overcome that to write the novel? How does this manifest in the book?
I am without a doubt both at the same time, Iranian and French, and not entirely one or the other. In reality, I don’t define myself in this way. I am myself, with a life trajectory that is mine and that took this path, just as it could have taken others. At the same time, I think that I owe a lot to both countries. Iran with its recurring tragedies, its permanent instabilities, allows one to develop an incredible resistance and the power of adaptability. And France on the other hand, with its certainties and its pride, which sometimes looks like arrogance, is a reassuring, stabilizing place from which you learn the meaning of continuity, of responsibility.
I think that the best thing people like me can do is to act as couriers, a bridge between civilizations that, contrary to what one might think, are not so very distant from each other.
Talla seems to be the heart of the novel, although I enjoyed the shift in focus to other characters as the book progressed, and I liked Elaheh very much. Do you think Talla, as a woman in Iran, speaks to the reader more profoundly of her experience?
I have often noticed that Talla makes an impression on readers, doubtlessly because they don’t imagine that a woman from her social category in Iran could be so self-assured and free. (In reality, there are many more like her.) I like her very much myself, but I also like her husband Sardar, who is much less exuberant but profoundly good, just as much. I believe that without him she would not be the way she is. Their strength is in their alliance. It is difficult to define love, but it seems to me that in its best form it is this: an alliance that lasts only as long as love lasts, but throughout this period of time, it is unwaveringly solid and stable…
We have 3 copies of The Gardens of Consolation to give away – simply fill in the form below for your chance to win:
The Competition is closed.
About the author
Parisa Reza was born in Tehran in 1965 to a family of intellectuals and artists, and moved to France at the age of seventeen. She was awarded the Prix Senghor 2015 for her first novel, The Gardens of Consolation.
About the translator
Adriana Hunter is a British translator of French literature. She is known for translating more than 50 French novels, such as Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb or The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa. In 2011 she won the Scott Moncrieff Prize for her translation of Véronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea. She has been short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2003. She is also a contributor to Words Without Borders. She lives in Norfolk, England.
The Gardens of Consolation by Parisa Reza, published on 12 Jan, 2017 by Europa Editions UK, in paperback at £11.99
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