The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar is set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using magic realism and classical Persian tales, Azar tells the story of a family deeply affected by the post-revolutionary chaos and brutality.
Things I understand and appreciate about The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree:
01. That it is a stunning example of using folklore to tell a modern story.
02. That Persian folklore is rich and I knew very little of it before reading this book.
03. That books such as this introduce readers to a slice of history and to a culture that isn’t readily accessible (or rather, under-represented) in Australia.
04. That Azar’s writing is very fine and powerful –
For Mum, Sohrab wasn’t a son awaiting an uncertain fate, imprisoned in an uncertain prison. For Mum, he was the culmination of heartbeats, desires, loves and hopes that she had endured her entire life; of which she dreamed, for which she searched in novels and in the layers of poetry; and which in the end, she lost.
I realised that we dead are the sorrowful side of life, while the living are the joyful side of death.
05. That a scene featuring a mermaid will stay with me for a very long time. It made me feel physically ill (again, testament to Azar’s strong writing).
Things that I know about myself as a reader:
01. That I don’t really like magic realism.
02. That if, while reading, my mind drifts after a page or two and that it takes a monumental effort to refocus, it’s not the book for me.
Unfortunately list two outweighed list one.
I found this book hard reading, predominantly because of the structure. The Persian tales interwoven with the narrative about the family resulted in a story that was intricate and meandering. Tales of jinns, ghosts, incessant snow storms and the building of a palace of mirrors were vivid but also so numerous that I felt the family’s story lacked cohesion.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree has been shortlisted for the 2018 Stella Prize. Will it win? If the judges like magic realism, then perhaps. If it was up to me, no.
2/5 But don’t let me put you off…
At least you can still use your feet to walk, feel things with your skin, taste qormeh sabzi and abgusht.