Caspian Rain – Gina B. Nahai

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Bahar imagines the color of the Caspian Sea, a green so alive that it might hold all her dreams. She is a poor Iranian Jew, an optimist, a young girl with no sense of the limits that will hobble her life. When she encounters the diffident son of a wealthy Iranian family, she believes life has opened a door for her. Caspian Rain is the story of class and hope and bitter depair, told in the words of Bahar’s daughter and only child. Yaas tightrope-walks on a razor’s edge between parents who are unreconciled to their bitter disappointment and the terrible knowledge that nothing she can do will make either of them see her, will make her safe.

Gina B. Nahai captures a time in Iran just before the Shah is deposed and women returned to invisibility under the chador. Yaas lives with the broken spirit of her mother, a young woman who wanted to go to university and become a teacher, a teenage bride who was buried alive in a big house and a loveless marriage. Yaas means “poet’s jasmine” in Farsi. It also means “despair.” Yaas begins to understand her father’s infatuation with a striking jet-setter, a visitor to Tehran who is publicly kept by a rich lover. She tolerates her mother’s incessant pressure to make friends, to fit in, to excel in school, to create a whole, successful life. Yaas is going deaf and nothing she can do will ever make things whole or heal her damaged parents or capture the magic of the golden rain on the edge of the Caspian, the vivid green of the sea.

Nahai traces the dissolution of three lives in a fading culture. She fills the novel with odd characters and ghostly presences that foretell sorrows. Yaas’ voice is calm and matter-of-fact. Her story is woven of shame, striving, grief, anger, betrayal and failure but it isn’t melodramatic–just quietly horrible. None of the trappings can cover the emptiness in these lives. None of the doctors or the second-hand hearing aids can restore what is inexorably lost. When a child is unseen by people who are unloved, she becomes a ghost. Caspian Rain is haunted by the ghost of what might have been, the words that are and are not said, the inevitable costs of the chances we take when stubborn belief seems as if it will almost be enough.

Caspian Rain   Gina B. Nahai | MacAdam/Cage  2004

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