The Book of Fate is the début novel by Iranian author Parinoush Saniee. Though twice banned in her home country, it has become an international bestseller and is now published in English for the first time.
The story covers five decades – from the 1960s to the present day – in the life of its narrator, Massoumeh, exploring what it is like to be a woman in Iran, how much has changed during this turbulent period, and how much remains the same.
From the beginning, she is bound by her family’s traditional values. When, in her early teens, they leave the provinces for the city of Tehran, she insists on continuing her education, and resists their efforts to marry her off as soon as possible.
Intelligent and spirited, Massoumeh grows close to a schoolmate, the mischievous Parvaneh. On their daily walk to school they encounter a shy young medical student, Saiid, an assistant in the local pharmacy. For Massoumeh, it is love at first sight; but when her brothers discover this ‘pure and innocent love’, they react furiously.
After the ensuing scandal, Massoumeh is confined to her home while her brothers parade her before a series of unappealing suitors. Their neighbour, Mrs Parvin, is determined to save Massoumeh from the abusive marriage she has endured, but warns, ‘We each have our destiny and you can’t fight yours.’
'The Book of Fate' is a family saga, evoking the journey of one of the world’s oldest civilisations as it enters the twenty-first century. At seventeen, Massoumeh enters an arranged marriage with Hamid, an intellectual of thirty who works in his father’s printing house. He gives Massoumeh more freedom than she has ever known before, and encourages her to resume her studies.
But Hamid is a member of a dissident faction, plotting to overthrow the Shah’s corrupt regime. For him, realising political ideals is more important than love or marriage.
Massoumeh also faces the challenge of becoming a working mother. Initially shunned by her colleagues, she later finds herself the centre of attention as popular support for revolution grows. However, the ‘sweet and exhilarating early days of the revolution’ give way to the founding of an Islamic Republic, and a new wave of repression.
As the narrative ends, Massoumeh faces up to mortality, reflecting on the very different paths that her children have followed, and questioning whether she has finally won the right to decide her own fate.
The Book of Fate is a family saga with a cast of characters ranging from heroic to venal. Parinoush Saniee’s compelling tale (translated by Sara Khalili) is partly inspired by the work of Iran’s greatest female poet, Forough Farrokhzad, and by telling Massoumeh’s story, evokes the journey of one of the world’s oldest civilizations as it enters the twenty-first century.
Through many dramatic twists and turns, Saniee reveals the perils of idolatry, which so often leads to tyranny, whether in the domestic sphere or the nation state.
Recommended for: Readers of literary sagas with an interest in global history, politics and feminism