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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