“How do we recognize the moment our future has been written for us? In To Keep the Sun Alive, as the Islamic Revolution looms just outside the gate of an Iranian family orchard, Rabeah Ghaffari has built a world so lush, so precise that you will find yourself rewriting history if only to imagine it could still exist.”—Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
"[A] tenderhearted début novel . . . A wide-ranging narrative, showing the enduring ramifications of filial and political violence." —The New Yorker
The year is 1979. The Iranian Revolution is just around the corner. In the northeastern city of Naishapur, a retired judge and his wife, Bibi-Khanoom, continue to run their ancient family orchard, growing apples, plums, peaches, and sour cherries. The days here are marked by long, elaborate lunches on the terrace where the judge and his wife mediate disputes between aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews that foreshadow the looming national crisis to come. Will the monarchy survive the revolutionary tide gathering across the country? Will the judge’s brother, a powerful cleric, take political control of the town or remain only a religious leader?
And yet, life goes on. Bibi-Khanoom’s grandniece secretly falls in love with the judge’s grandnephew and dreams of a career on the stage. His other grandnephew withers away on opium dreams. A widowed father longs for a life in Europe. A strained marriage slowly unravels. The orchard trees bloom and fruit as the streets in the capital grow violent. And a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse, set to occur on one of the holiest days of year, finally causes the family—and the country—to break.
Told through a host of unforgettable characters, ranging from servants and young children to intimate friends, To Keep the Sun Alive reveals the personal behind the political, reminding us of the human lives that animate historical events.
A family whose members hold varying loyalties shapes Ghaffari's evocative debut set during the Iranian Revolution. Akbar, a retired judge, and his wife, Bibi, invite their extended family for leisurely lunches at their orchard in Naishapur. Akbar's brother Habib is a mullah who's fond of his own voice and increasingly passionate about the need for religious cleansing. His widower nephew, Shazdehpoor, bristles at Iran's provincialism and yearns for the charms of Europe. His two sons reject their father's intent fastidiousness: Jamsheed through opium addiction and Madjid through his heady love affair with Nasreen. As tensions rise, the family focuses more on quotidian challenges: Bibi's friendship with an elderly midwife, the buried disappointments of marriage, servant Mirza's propensity for forbidden alcohol, and Bibi's adopted son Jafar's extreme fondness for the chickens they raise. When the revolution finally arrives, shocking, sudden violence sweeps up the family with tragic results. Ghaffari delves into her characters with sensitivity for their positions and differences. Readers will savor the emotional depth of one family's experience of the terrifying effects of religious fundamentalism and political instability.