People sometimes ask me how I decide if I should finish a book I’m not really enjoying.  This is a good question.  My general rule of thumb is that if I’m not loving the book or engaged with the characters after reading 50 pages, I put it down.  After all, life is short.

But sometimes it’s worth pushing through with a book if I’m learning something.  Such was the case with Savushun.  I wanted to love this book, because it was the first novel ever published by a woman in Iran, and it’s set during World War II in Iran at a very fascinating time in the country’s history, and apparently it resonates strongly with Iranians.

As I began reading though, I found that I really disliked the main character.  Zari is weak and listless and leads a life of oppressive futility.  She just stands there and lets bad things sort of wash over her.  I found myself strongly tempted to let the book go.

But as I thought more deeply about it, it struck me that the character of Zari was trapped by her own milieu in the same way that many of us are blinded to the follies and bad choices our own culture dictates.  Zari couldn’t see her way out of her situation, but I think we give ourselves too much credit if we assume that our own viewpoints and reactions aren’t colored by the times in which we live.

In addition to having a little more compassion for Zari (who does redeem herself a little by the end of the book), I also felt like I was learning so much by reading the novel that it would be a shame not to finish it.  I really think that a story is a great way to learn about a culture or a period of history, and how it fit into the bigger picture of what was going on in the world.  I really enjoyed that aspect of Savushun.

While I never grew to love the characters, I do think reading the book was worthwhile for  the history and cultural understanding it imparted.  If any of you reads or has read the book, please let me know, because I’d be interested to find out if you felt the same way about the characters or if they just caught me at a bad time.


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3 thoughts on “Savushun

  1. thanks for this review. my book club just finished reading the book and discussed it (over Persian food and other dishes) last night. And a friend sent a link to your post about Savushun.

    Below (in slightly edited form) is what I just wrote after reading your review–

    again, i appreciate you guys sticking it out and reading the book as much as you did. I believe and hope this is a book you might mention to friends and colleagues at different points in your life. I know I will.

    Especially in light of the this new chapter of xenophobia and hate in our country- and boy has there been a fair amount of it in this country’s short history!- , it is so important to have books and materials that can help cultivate humility and convey the complexity of the world. Indeed, I think one of the most important things that needs to be foundational in schools today is for the next generation to understand what is complexity, relating to uncertainty, understanding that we all operate from worldviews. And that the rest of the world operate from symbols, myths, stories, and worldviews that come from a different set of experiences, stories, and histories…And…that said, we can take our own life experience as a frame for understanding and relating to what’s in the book. What you shared [book club member] about growing up in a deep Christian context– and how the messages, both direct and indirect, that you heard growing up– mirror a lot of what the characters experience in the book is an excellent example of this.

    Like I said, I think it is very important to have the experience of reading about something where we don’t understand fully what’s going on, where things are frustratingly ambiguous, where the characters are dealing with is a frightening level of confusion and ambivalence– to counterbalance the NPR-ish “yes, let’s break this down for you and make it neat and clear and accessible.”

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