Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (January 7, 2014)
Betrayal, forgiveness, identity and obsession churn against the tumultuous landscape of the Islamic revolution and seemingly perfect gardens of southern California in this compelling novel from bestselling author Dora Levy Mossanen.
Amidst a shattering betrayal and a country in turmoil, Soraya flees Iran to make a new life for herself in Los Angeles. The cruel and intimate blow her husband has dealt her awakens an obsessive streak that explodes in the heated world of Southern California, as Soraya plots her revenge against the other woman, her best friend, Butterfly. What she discovers proves far more devastating than anything she had ever imagined, unleashing a whirlwind of events that leave the reader breathless.
A novel singed by the flavors of Tehran, imbued with the Iranian roots of Persepolis and the culture clash of Rooftops of Tehran, this is a striking, nuanced story of a woman caught between two worlds, from the bestselling author of Harem, Courtesan, and The Last Romanov.
Buy, read, and discuss Scent of Butterflies
Dora Levy Mossanen was born in Israel and moved to Iran when she was nine. At the onset of the Islamic revolution, she and her family moved to the United States. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of California-Los Angeles and a master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.
Dora is the bestselling author of the acclaimed novels Harem, Courtesan, and The Last Romanov. Her fourth and most provocative book, Scent of Butterflies, was released January 7, 2014. She is a frequent contributor to numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post and the Jewish Journal. She has been featured on KCRW, The Politics of Culture, Voice of Russia, Radio Iran and numerous other radio and television programs. She is the recipient of the prestigious San Diego Editors’ choice award and was accepted as contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Dora Levy Mossanen’s novels have been translated into numerous languages world-wide.
While Soraya’s story was both interesting and compelling, I found myself distracted by two things: one: how on earth did she have the funds with which to make her escape from Tehran and set up a whole new lifestyle in California, and why wasn’t she more likeable?
The first question may have been answered in the text, and I simply missed it. The second, I think, is by design. Soraya was betrayed, yes, but she is the perfect embodiment of blind revenge, setting up everything she can in order to get even with the people who have wronged her. Of course, betrayals within marriages cause some of the deepest wounds, and betrayals among long-time friends are just as hurtful, so maybe it’s not surprising that the main character is a little too ‘hard,’ a little too inscrutable, a little too difficult to empathize with.
Aside from my utter inability to like the main character, I thought Mossanen’s novel was truly well-written, the language almost lyrical in places. Even somewhat creepy passages (when Soraya literally squeezes the life from a butterfly for her collection) had a sort of dark beauty about them. Similarly, the descriptions of place, the spare use of language, the recurring themes of butterflies, both in the body of Soraya’s friend Butterfly, and in her vast collection of dead insects, really blended well to give this book a sort of otherworldly feeling. The repeated references to the human Butterfly’s preference for Chanel No. 5 were familiar to me – I have a great aunt who has worn Taboo for so many years that when I smell it, it smells like rice pudding to me, because I associate it with her work in our family’s diner. How sad to have Soraya’s more negative sense memory of her childhood friend’s preferred scent.
Early in Soraya’s time in California she references advice the once received, about only moving somewhere with the same color sky. With her writing, Mossanen makes us see the beauty of the Tehran that was, even in the Los Angeles that is, and I enjoyed that aspect of the novel.
I’ll confess that I had a personal interest in this book: when I was very young (one or two) my mother was dating a young Iranian officer visiting the U.S. on an exchange. He was a member of the Shah’s army, and actually tried to convince my mother to marry him and move to Iran (fortunately for both of us, she refused). While I have no distinct memories of him, I find familiarity in the rhythms of spoken Farsi.
At times, reading Scent of Butterflies, I felt like I was hearing those rhythms, the particular cadences that only those language families have.
I do want to mention that the twist near the end of the novel DID surprise me, and I thought the whole book was well-crafted. I think I’m just not quite cynical enough to resonate with Soraya, even though her story was well told.
Goes well with Falafel and tahini sauce and mint tea.
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