"The Heart's Desire", by Nahid Rachlin, published by City Lights Books, San Francisco. $9.95.
Nahid Rachlin is the most published Iranian author in the United States. She may even be the only Iranian author who has five English novels in print -- all written in the past two decades.
"Foreigner", her first novel in the late 70's, received considerable critical acclaim, notably in a piece in the New York Times Book Review by Anne Tyler -- heavy-weight American novelist ("The Accidental Tourist") married to famous Iranian novelist Taqi Modarresi ("Sharifjan, Sharifjan").
Despite her success outside Iran, Rachlin's works have not been translated into Persian and she is not well-known among Iranians.
Rachlin's latest effort, "The Heart's Desire", focuses on cultural issues facing an Iranian/American couple in post-revolutionary Iran. The plot immediately reminds one of "Not Without My Daughter," the controversial novel (also made into a film starring Sally Fields) about an American mother fighting to save her child from an abusive Iranian husband in a country basically described as an insect-infested black hole.
"The Heart's Desire," however, is far from sensational. Instead, it seems to seek an honest understanding of obvious cultural schisms compounded by agitated religious and social conditions.
The American mother in this story is Jennifer Sahary, an artist married to an Iranian professor. Naturally, one does not expect a secular American (and free-spirited artist) to be very keen on seeing her child going through any kind of rigorous religious training. One could then feel her genuine concern when she sees her young son, Darius, at a religious class in a mosque in Tehran:
"Jennifer opened the intricately latticed metal gate of the mosque and went inside. for an instant she was distracted by the beauty of a wall at one side of the courtyard, covered with tiles, each with a peacock design on it.... As she went closer she could see, through its half-open door, a group of children sitting cross-legged on a rug and a a woman in the middle of the room facing them, a large Koran on a wooden lectern open before her. She was reading lines from the Koran and the children were repeating them after her. Jennifer felt a pang in her heart as she spotted Darius, who looked lost and confused. She knocked on the door and the teacher motioned to her to wait. She stood there, trying to control her impulse to walk in and snatch Darius away. She waved at him, but he didn't see her."
Rachlin, a creative writing teacher at New York's Barnard College, does not have a terribly complicated style. That might be a blessing. Instead of trying to solve literary riddles and metaphors and hallucinating in magical realism, the reader is left free with a clear head to grasp complicated human and cultural issues.