Iran’s trees. The arboreal titles led me to read this as a pair.
The cypress and the greengage now adorn landscapes and orchards around the world, but it was in Persia that they originated; and although these books are not about the history of trees, these sing of the Iranian soul — finding enlightenment through a greengage, or ever-bending like the cypress.
The Cypress Tree can stand as a refresher or introduction to Iran’s history. Kamin Mohammadi does not make it seem like she is merely listing events chronologically. The melody in her language is retained despite summarizing a civilization and sharply criticizing its rulers.
Of Khomeini, “Hadn’t he dug up the earth in which we thrived and condemned the nutrients that fed our beings as unhealthy, corrupt and un-Islamic?” Of its culture she accurately expresses how, throughout history, it “infiltrates the dominant culture of the invader, transforming it to glory.” Of its food, their day shapes itself around it. Of its language “made so absolutely for amusement and love.”
As cliche as it may sound, this is truly a love letter to Iran — the Iran “not one of mullahs and fundamentalism, but a place of kindness and love, an abundant paradise of mountains and deserts and turquoise seas… not populated by implacable priests and unshaven blood-hungry young men… but where the language even of strangers was affectionate and poetic.”
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is written by none other than the first Iranian woman to hitchhike the entire length of the Silk Road, Shokoofeh Azar.
When it comes to Magic Realism, our favorite Latin American writers come to mind. But this work reminds us that as far as recorded literature goes, this region goes way back to the Arabian Nights and further.
For readers who are not fans of the genre, this can be overwhelming and chaotic. Having read mostly non-fiction in November, it took me a few chapters to adjust and warm up to it. But for those who have the patience for Magical Realism suffused with Persian mythology and superstition, this can be an exceptional experience. It was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize, after all.
By chapter 5, you will begin to understand that a dead person is narrating the story. There will be indelible scenes of Khomeini’s death reimagined, of musical instruments and books being burned, of a mother’s heart becoming a graveyard… but the political, the poetic, the evocative, the profound figures of speech, crescendo toward the end, and by then, you will realize that you have a forceful piece of literature in your hands.
“Write. Write all you remember. The characters in novels, their loves, war, peace; their adventures, hates, betrayals… write down anything you remember from the books.”