The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Foroutan

The Girl from the Garden is a story which is centred around women: Mahboubeh, Rakhel, Khorsheed and Kokab; women who are ruled by the expectations of the society and the men around them. Set in both present day Los Angeles and the Iranian town on Kermanshah, the story is told through the fragmented memories of Mahboubeh who is tending her garden and reflecting on her mother.

Through these flashbacks that Mahboubeh has whilst weeding, we learn that Mahboubeh’s family history is less than idyllic. It would appear that her mother died and she is struggling to remember the circumstances in which she was lost, piecing together what she has sought and what she knows. There are references made to Dada and her being the source of what happened to Mahboubeh’s mother, and the links between all the women mentioned by Foroutan become clearer as the book proceeds.

However, for me, the book began in a fog. I was a little confused over who Mahboubeh was and her relationship to the other characters mentioned and the first half of the book was a bit of a struggle. I could see what the author was attempting with Rakhel’s desperation to conceive and her jealousy of others who did not share the same difficulty; the element of calling on spirits to help as well rang true, the act of the truly desperate to find any means at all, worldly or otherworldly to change their situation; the need for any man to have an heir and how not begetting one easily or at all reflects on their manhood and therefore, undermines their power. These are tensions as old as time that cross cultures and continents and should have led to a tense and involved read but it just never resulted in that for me.

The second half of the book when Kokab was introduced made the book salvageable for me and I found that I was interested in how other characters would choose to react to her presence. But, for me, it still wasn’t enough to get me invested enough to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. This view was difficult for me to evaluate as all the indications of a good book were there and Foroutan is a good writer with her descriptions and sense of rivalries between characters but my reading of the book was never fully involved and this was disappointing.

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