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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Dina Nayeri, Sneha Mathan (Reader)

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1412885,024 (3.68)20
Title:A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea
Authors:Dina Nayeri
Other authors:Sneha Mathan (Reader)
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, read it

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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (2013)


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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Childhood memories are cherished things, brought forward in our lives as we grow up, and which slowly become dreamlike with distortions, filters, and embellishments. So it is with Saba Hafezi's memories of her twin sister, Mahtab. Inseparable, the girls grow up in the warmth of a village in Iran, where they are the cherished and pampered children of a well-educated Christian couple. Surrounded by secrets, of their faith, their education, and their mother's activities, they nonetheless feel grounded and secure.

And then Mahtab and their mother are gone.

Saba remembers the day they left to go to America. The ride to the airport, the mystery of where they were going and why, the color of her mother's scarf as she and Mahtab disappear in the crowd. Saba had been sick and not allowed to see Mahtab, a painful first that left Saba hollow. But they would be together soon, and on their way to America, the dream land the twins idolized as though it were a movie star or rock singer. But in a confusing twist of fate, Saba sees her mother and Mahtab leave without her. Crushed, Saba returns home with her father. From that day on Saba lives two lives: one, constricted by tradition and religion, in her rural hometown and the other in a fantasy America where her twin lives an extravagant and unfettered dream.

Saba grows up motherless and yet surrounded by mothers. Khanom Basir, the Evil One, wants the best for Saba, as long as that doesn't include marriage to her beloved son, Reza. Khanom Mansoori, the Ancient One, is nearly ninety and treats Saba as though she were the daughter she never had. Khanom Omidi, the Sweet One, squirrels away money made from her yogurt sales and always has a treat for the lonely girl. These three old woman, try to fill the void, but never really understand the well-educated and headstrong Saba. Their voices and memories add additional layers to the story of her life.

As Saba navigates the shoals of adolescence, first love, arranged marriage, and adulthood, snippets of meaning float to the surface which suggest that Saba's memories might hide a darker truth. The boundaries between memory, truth, and story are fluid and one's life is composed of bits of each. Just as Saba must choose how she tells her life story, so must the reader choose what to believe.

In an author's note, Dina Nayeri describes her own life story as the inverse of Saba's. Dina was raised in exile in America and dreams of what her life might have been like had her family remained in Iran after the revolution. She writes that this book is her own "Mahtab dream".

Although a first novel and in need of some tightening, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is intriguing and complex with some beautifully written passages. I look forward to seeing how the author's style evolves in future novels. ( )
2 vote labfs39 | Aug 30, 2013 |
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a poignant tale of twin sisters growing up in Iran. Saba and Mahtab were mirror images of each other until the day Saba’s mother left and Saba saw Mahtab being dragged away. Forced to be alone for the first time, Saba finds friendship with two local village children, Ponneh and Reza. As the children grow up in a changing 1980s Iran where American books, magazines and video tapes are prized, they are forced to confront harsh realities of the new regime. Some events will be life changing, but throughout Saba clings to the memory that Mahtab and her mother are safely in America.

I enjoy books set in a different culture to my own and this tale is no exception. Reading this book helped me to understand more about what some of my friends and colleagues went through when they left Iran in the early 1990s. A lot of the everyday rules and rituals were foreign to me – such as the banning of alcohol and not being able to wear the shoes you want outside. Saba’s frequent mistakes and flaunting of the rules had much more severe consequences that I could envisage.

The predominant question as Saba and her friends are growing up is, ‘where is Mahtab?’ People try to tell her that Mahtab’s gone, but Saba won’t listen and her father won’t reveal the truth. The constant questioning got a little annoying for me as I could tell that I wasn’t going to find out any time soon. As the children grew older, the questioning lessened and Saba, Ponneh and Reza began to become tangled up in a whole new set of problems. I did like Saba’s tellings of Mahtab’s life in America (heavily influenced by movies and television, such as Growing Pains and Love Story) and looked forward to reading new ‘episodes’.

Storytelling is a major part of the plot, as is working out what is truth and what is fiction. Saba struggles to work out the many uncertainties in her life and why they have happened. It’s only as she faces the truth that she starts to heal. Separate chapters by Reza’s mother gives some clue that Saba isn’t always telling the truth. These chapters also help to shape the setting, which is beautifully described by Nayeri. The setting of rural Iran where somebody is always watching and no-one is safe is beautiful but unsettling.

This is a quietly emotional book that packed a punch at its conclusion – I was hoping I was mistaken in the fate of some of the characters. The contrasts Saba makes between herself and Mahtab are quite sad, highlighted in the different opportunities available to women in Iran and America.

Thank you to The Reading Room and Allen and Unwin for the ARC of this book.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Jun 30, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is one of those times when I marvel at how reading experiences can be so different for various readers. I have seen many positive reviews of this book, and I can't relate to them at all. I tried on multiple occasions to read this book, but found the writing overly detailed and dream-like, which is not always a bad thing, but in this case it prevented me from ever being able to immerse myself in the story. Time and again I sat down with this book and tried to force-feed it to my brain. File this one under the category, "Life is too Short." Perhaps it was just a case of bad timing, but this is certainly not a book for me at this point in my life. ( )
1 vote akreese | May 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was engrossed by this haunting novel from start to finish. It is the summer of 1981 in Iran. Saba Hafezi and her twin sister Mahtab are the children of a wealthy Muslim father and Christian mother. The girls are happy and in love with all things American. An accident takes Mahtab from Saba - and later while trying to escape with Saba to America her mother disappears as well. Saba never accepts this loss - she is convinced her mother and Mahtab are living in America without her and she clings to this belief - spinning stories of the parallel life Mahtab is living - as she and her friends grow up in an increasingly brutal regime.

Told from various viewpoints and incorporating Eastern storytelling traditions with modern prose this is a novel to curl up with and savor - a beautiful debut.

I received this book as part of the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and thank them for the opportunity to read this book. ( )
  Jazzmin52 | May 31, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This beautifully-written book is a coming of age story set in post-revolutionary Iran. Saba Hafezi is obsessed with English language and American culture, a dangerous pursuit in revolutionary Iran. This interest is cemented by Saba's memories of her mother and twin sister migrating to the United States in the midst of the revolution. Saba has to deal with the emotional baggage of being the twin left behind, while trying to find her way in a confusing world with few opportunities for smart young women. Saba's own story is interwoven with the stories she tells about her mother and sister. Storytelling becomes the way that Saba works out her sadness and grief.

This book provides a fascinating look at growing up in the Iran of the 1980s. Saba lives in a rural area. Her remoteness from the capital provides her with some protection, but she longs for the cosmopolitan Tehran she remembers from pre-revolutionary days. In a broader sense, this is a book about a community coming to terms with a confusing new society. Over the course of the book the presence of the moral police becomes heavier, and the opportunities for a smart young woman like Saba diminish. The author pays significant attention to the development of Saba's relationship with her closest female friend, Ponneh. Each woman takes a very different path to dealing with the restrictions of the new Iran, and neither finds complete satisfaction.

In language and description this is a beautiful book. I was drawn in by Saba and her community. I was less interested in the stories she told about Mahtab, and occasionally found these a bit ponderous. Overall, though, a very moving book. ( )
  lahochstetler | May 28, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dina Nayeriprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dewey, AmandaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stålmarck, YlvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Philip and for Baba Hajji, whom I once longed to see together in the same room.
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This is the sum of all that Saba Hafezi remembers from the day her mother and twin sister flew away forever, maybe to America, maybe to somewhere even farther out of reach.
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Book description
Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

Filled with a colorful cast of characters and presented in a bewitching voice that mingles the rhythms of Eastern storytelling with modern Western prose, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a tale about memory and the importance of controlling one’s own fate.
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Fascinated with America, young Saba Hafezi of 1980s Iran becomes convinced that her suddenly missing mother and twin sister have departed for America without her, a situation that compels her to envision her twin's Western life throughout subsequent years.… (more)

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