The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar is set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using magic realism and classical Persian tales, Azar tells the story of a family deeply affected by the post-revolutionary chaos and brutality.
Things I understand and appreciate about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree:
01. That it is a stunning example of using folklore to tell a modern story.
02. That Persian folklore is rich and I knew very little of it before reading this book.
03. That books such as this introduce readers to a slice of history and to a culture that isn’t readily accessible (or rather, under-represented) in Australia.
04. That Azar’s writing is very fine and powerful –
For Mum, Sohrab wasn’t a son awaiting an uncertain fate, imprisoned in an uncertain prison. For Mum, he was the culmination of heartbeats, desires, loves and hopes that she had endured her entire life; of which she dreamed, for which she searched in novels and in the layers of poetry; and which in the end, she lost.
I realised that we dead are the sorrowful side of life, while the living are the joyful side of death.
05. That a scene featuring a mermaid will stay with me for a very long time. It made me feel physically ill (again, testament to Azar’s strong writing).
06. That some of my favourite bloggers (Lisa and Brona) loved this book to pieces.
Things that I know about myself as a reader:
01. That I don’t really like magic realism.
02. That if, while reading, my mind drifts after a page or two and that it takes a monumental effort to refocus, it’s not the book for me.
Unfortunately list two outweighed list one.
I found this book hard reading, predominantly because of the structure. The Persian tales interwoven with the narrative about the family resulted in a story that was intricate and meandering. Tales of jinns, ghosts, incessant snow storms and the building of a palace of mirrors were vivid but also so numerous that I felt the family’s story lacked cohesion.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree has been shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize. Will it win? If the judges like magic realism, then perhaps. If it was up to me, no.
2/5 But don’t let me put you off…
At least you can still use your feet to walk, feel things with your skin, taste qormeh sabzi and abgusht.
No, it’s not for everyone, but you are right, I loved it to pieces!
The thing is that I agree with everything you said in your review, it just wasn’t for me!
And isn’t that what we love about books? There is no other artefact in the world that is personal for each person that interacts with it. That book, the way I read it, is mine. It can never be anyone else’s in exactly the same way…
I clearly have to read this. I tend to be uncertain about magical realism but whenever I read a book using it I find I like it.
As I’m not a fan of magic realism I didn’t really feel qualified to review it (and only did so because it is on the Stella shortlist and I plan on reading the whole list). Had it not been listed, I would not have read it – I guess this is the great thing about prizes – greater readership and exposure for books that might otherwise slip beneath the radar.
Yes. Good on you for planning to read the whole shortlist. I decided long ago that playing that game would be just too stressful, much as I’d like to.
That said, not sure I’ll get through Tracker before the winner is announced!
A very balanced review! I quite like magic realism in small doses so I’ll give this a go and surround it with more grounded everyday tales 🙂
I think my best magic realism experience was The Portable Veblen. Greengage was just too much for me.
This sounds like the book for me. I love magical realism. Borges, Garcia Marquez, Murakami, Esquivel, Allende – yum! Also, between 1976 and 1979, my best friend was an Iranian girl called Laleh. After the revolution, they had to move back to Iran. I remember her parents didn’t want to. I often wonder what her life has been like over the last 39 years, whether the family managed to leave again. I’m off to see if I can get a copy of this book through my library.
If you like magic realism I think you’ll love this book – it has all the elements you’d expect plus rich Persian stories plus a twist… I didn’t mention the twist in my review but it’s terrific.
I’ve bought it on Kindle. Damnit!
I’m not a fan of magic realism but am going to (hopefully) start this one later today.
I originally didn’t know if I wanted to read it but I have read some interesting interviews with the author and also, based on the blurb, think it sounds innovative and in with a chance to win the Stella prize. A nice opportunity perhaps to read outside my comfort zone… 🙂
It’s certainly a good choice if you want something quite different from what you’d normally read. As I said, it wasn’t really for me but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it!
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