Disoriental by Négar Djavadi tr. Tina Kover #WITMonth







I could end my review right there, those were the words I tweeted not long after I finished Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental while I was still in the moment of coming to the end of an excellent story of an immersive experience I wasn’t ready to be done with. It was a five star read for me, but I’ll share a little more of the experience to help you decide if it’s for you or not.

The novel is a dual narrative, set in the present and the past, where the protagonist – who for some time is nameless, with little said to explain how she came to be here – is sitting in a fertility clinic, waiting for her appointment. This immediately creates questions in the reader’s mind, as it is made clear there is something unusual about the situation, that she is taking a risk to even be there. This contemporary narrative, slowly builds the picture of who she is and the  circumstance she is in.

This interminable waiting creates an opening for her to reflect and remember, thus interspersed between what takes place in the present, is the story of her family, a long line of Sadr’s, beginning with her parents Sara and Darius, forced to flee Iran, who came to France when she and her two sisters were of school age.

The narrating of family stories, taking us back as far as her great-grandfather Montazemolmolk with his harem of 52 wives, serves to provide context and an explanation for why certain family members might have behaved or lived in the way they did, helping us understand their motives and actions.

The daughter Nour, born with unusual piercing blue eyes, her mother dying in childbirth, the man obsessed with making her his wife, her reluctance to go out being the object of unwanted attention, her children who desire to be free of restriction, the reading of the coffee cups, predicting the sex of the child of a pregnant woman; Uncle Number Two and his secret.

Darius, the timid elder son, sent to Cairo to study law, abandons his studies and pursues a doctorate in Philosophy at the Sorbonne. Eventually he returns to the family, changed by his studies and experiences and though quiet in person, wields a mighty sword through his journalistic pen and letters to a political regime he detests and chooses not to ignore.

It is a story that spans a changing, turbulent time in Iranian history, one that travels through highs and lows, for while the passionate intellectual is free to express their opinion and brings no harm, they continue to live within their culture, family and be an active part of their community and society. But when freedom of expression becomes a danger to the individual, the sacrifices that are made stifle and silence them, but don’t always make them safe. Life in exile, without the connections to friends, family, neighbours, reduces these adults to shadows of their former beings, unable to truly be themselves in a foreign culture.

I highlighted so many great passages in reading, but I’ve already passed the book on to someone else to read, so can not share them here yet. It is a reminder of another era, of people who had rich, cultural and intellectual lives, of families who fled persecution, not because of war, but because of their intellectual and philosophical activism and of how much is lost, when a new generation grows up within a culture no longer connected to their past, to their heritage and worse, in a country that has been subject to the propaganda of the media, and perceptions of that culture are tainted by the agenda of politicians and parties, and what they wish their populations to believe about foreign cultures.

I absolutely loved it, I liked the slow drip revelation of what this young woman’s life had become, having been severed from her country and community of origin and the colourful, abundant richness of the family history and culture, which while separate from her life today, existed somewhere deep in her psyche, in her genes, and in those non-genetic aspects we inherit from previous generations even without knowledge of what has passed.

It is as if she had a crystal ball to look back through the years, through lives she hadn’t personally experienced and discovered events from the past that created an aspect of who she was and would in turn, be passed on and live deep within the yet unborn child she desires to conceive.

Highly Recommended.

Buy a Copy of DisOriental via Book Depository

28 thoughts on “Disoriental by Négar Djavadi tr. Tina Kover #WITMonth

  1. Haven’t headroom this one but I’m thoroughly intrigued. The mention of Cairo and I want to know all about it. Sounds like a very emotional read but a worthy one. How often do our get to grace a 5-star novel? Not often. So noted my Dear and has been put very high up on my TBR. Thanks for your wonderful reviews that I always look forward to. Wha’s next in the reading pipeline? We need to read Texaco.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, it didn’t really like an emotional read at the time, it was like on of those books you so enjoy hanging out with and expect to go on a bit longer and so the effect of it coming to an end and the news that is presented at the same time, resulted in this wonderful little emotional moment, which in my case, happened to be witnessed! Yes, I want to read Texaco, but I’m trying to stick to reading women in translation during August. That said, I do have time at the moment. Thank you for your kind words about my reviews, likewise I love your reviews and following your reading and your fabulous YouTube channel, which I hope gets going even more going forward.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was wonderful, totally the kind of book I like to read, one that crosses cultures and shares insights, that is able to look back and appreciate why things are the way are and yet is modern and presents a thought provoking commentary on life today.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. While I don’t think this is for me, I can see why it resonated so strongly with you especially given your interest in cross-cultural stories. Bravo to Europa Editions for giving this particular one a voice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s great to read these kind of stories, they help increase understanding between generations and across cultures and this one has some topical issues that are universal, while also referring to the cultural past of the protagonist. It’s not so much about educating the reader on Iranian history, but how the circumstances of each generation can often be misunderstood by the one that goes before them, and then to throw a family into exile, compounds the confusion even further. It hardly even has time to consider how the host country population might perceive this, it takes us right inside the heart of one young woman and everything that has shaped her up until now.


  3. This reminds me of reading a novel by a Chinese author, I’m not sure now which one, but it was probably Yan Lianke, writing a brief character sketch about a university professor who had survived the Cultural Revolution by keeping his head down. That repression, both external and self-imposed, destroyed his whole sense of self, but it also damaged the ensuing generations who were not allowed to know the intellectual underpinnings of their history and culture.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s also true of those who come from what is now referred to as the ‘Silent Generation’, the traditionalists, in our culture, it is those who experienced the wars, that refusal to talk about it, the silence imposed on subsequent generations, even though they aren’t divorced from their culture, it’s another aspect of the damage that silence can yield. It’s a subject likely to be continued to be written about as yet another generation of mass migration occurs and a new generation will be born outside their cultural heritage, but within families who yearn for what they lost.


    • I’m still thinking about it, it’s like I read it on one level and it was having effect on me at a much deeper level, you know how the intellect so often is oblivious to how the sub-conscious is taking it all in and sometimes rises to the surface and responds without warning. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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