# Hardcover: 272 pages
# Publisher: Viking Adult (March 16, 2006)
# Genre: Fiction
# Author and book website:
This is a compact, sensitively-told love story between an Iranian immigrant (also a carpet seller) and a college-going American student almost half his age.
Ushman comes to America at the urging of his wife Farak after a terrible earthquake devastated their carpet-making business in Tabriz, Iran. She stays behind to look after his invalid mother. The expectation was that she would join him after a short while, but as time went on, Farak seemed less and less inclined to do so. Stella, a 19-year old virgin meets Ushman at the airport where she had gone to see her parents off on a trip to Italy and the two develop an unlikely friendship, finally becoming lovers. As you will tell from reading the synopsis, the plot itself is unremarkable, but the story is moving, giving the reader insights into the lonely world of an immigrant, especially one who has had to leave his family behind; also, you are given the opportunity to look at America from the perspective of a non-westerner.
As I read the book I couldn't help noticing how much Ushman continued to love Farak (even though she was now estranged from him). So why then was he with Stella? Out of loneliness seems to be the most probable answer, but also, Stella was the first person in this new country who geuninely seemed to care for him. It seemed to Ushman that to other people he was barely human, "just a curiosity, an oddity or someone to be stared at". Also, Stella was his guide in this bewildering, foreign land where everything was so strange and alien to him.
For instance, one of the first things to shock and confuse Ushman was the freedom of choice in the US. In his native Iran, there was little ambiguity but in the US, "...everything is negotiable. Everything is possible. These endless possibilities become exhausting." ( I love that insight!)
Also, he couldn't get used to the "dating" phenomenon. In Iran, when he and Farak got engaged they barely spoke to each other; neither one dared to do anything that might compromise their engagement. Only after they were married was Ushman comfortable enough to share his faults and shortcomings with Farak. Stella's openess, candor and the fearless way she revealed secrets about herself and her family's personal strife made Ushman uncomfortable . He was wary of revealing too much about himself without a marriage contract. It scared and unnerved him.
Mullins does such a good job of conveying Ushman's confusion, loneliness and bewilderment in this new country that it summons a reader's protective instinct, making us want to step into the pages of the novel to bring Ushman home for dinner while reassuring him everything is going to be alright; but, making us care for the protagonist is probably the book's greatest achievement. The other characters are not as compelling and the prose, although sweetly melancholy, reminded me (towards the end especially) of how I feel at the end of a long, gloomy,drizzly winter's day - a longing for some sunlight, some cheerfulness!
My feeling is that this story would have had more of a punch had it been presented as a short story rather than a novel.
For a more in-depth and very well-written review, please go to Karma Canyon's review in the NewsObserver.
Booklogged, has an equally good review on her journal here.