A Hundred Veils
I picked this book up as part of my effort to read more diverse books. It centers on a young American English teacher who falls in love with an Iranian girl at the University of Tehran in the 70s. It wasn’t until I’d finished reading it, and finally read the About the Author, that I discovered the author is actually local to me. And I mean VERY local. As in my county library system had an event starring him THREE DAYS PRIOR to my reading the book! So I’m a little annoyed that I missed that, as I’d love to know just how much of the storyline was based on his experience in Iran. (He did actually spend some time in Iran with the Peace Corps, and the book is based off that.)
The book is also the winner of the 2017 Maryland Writers’ Association Novel Contest for their Literary/Mainstream category. (And now that I know that’s a thing, I might have to read the winners of the other five categories!)
On to the actual review! So the book is set at the very beginning of the Iranian Revolution – Marco is an American English teacher who’s come to Iran for a year. While there, he falls in love with his roommate’s cousin. The book is really their love story, while surrounded by political and religious unrest.
The writing is excellent. I’m sure I would get more out of the book if I could read Farsi, as each chapter is begun by a few lines of poetry in Farsi, written in both Arabic script and English letters. But the pacing is perfect, the descriptions apt – I really enjoyed this book except for one thing.
He sleeps with the girl he loves, without having made a decision as to if they’ll actually be together. He’s not sure he wants to stay in Iran. She doesn’t want to leave. And he sleeps with her anyway. My immediate thought was “You might love her, but you don’t care about her very much.” At the time, it seems like it was more of a dishonor, rather than an outright death sentence for the girl, but it still would basically condemn her to a life of prostitution at best, if he declined to marry her.
Perhaps I’m more aware of how dire those consequences are than most people who might read the book – though the shame she could face is mentioned in the book. My husband was an Arabic linguist in the military, and spent years learning about their culture. He’d come home and talk about things he’d learned, so I absorbed a lot of it as well. So the fact that the main character slept with her with no plan for their future kind of pissed me off. It wouldn’t be HIM that faced consequences for it, after all.
And yes, it was the 70s, before a lot of the religious extremism took hold – there was, in fact, a lot of enforced secularism. Women at the University were banned from wearing chadors in class, and shared classes with men. It’s actually really disturbing, seeing how secular a lot of the Middle East was in the 70s, and then to see how far they regressed socially in the following decades.
Besides the thoughtlessness of Marco in this matter, I really enjoyed the book. It reminded me a lot of the things my husband told me about Afghanistan. I’d really like to get a chance to ask the author some questions, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for any other events he might do.
From the cover of A Hundred Veils:
A young American teacher at the University of Tehran falls in love with a beautiful Iranian girl and gets caught up in the social, political, and religious turmoil of the times.
What ecstasy to fly through the sky
Tearing a hundred veils with every breath.