Cover image for Moonlight on the avenue of faith
Title:
Moonlight on the avenue of faith
Author:
Nahai, Gina Barkhordar .
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt Brace, 1999.
Physical Description:
376 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780151003884
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Summary

Summary

One star-studded night, five-year-old Lili witnesses her mother, Roxanna the Angel, sprout wings and vanish into the sky, undisturbed by the rules of gravity. Roxanna leaves no farewell, no word of explanation, no trace of her existence. Lili's subsequent search for her mother-spurred by the tireless efforts of her aunt Miriam the Moon-is at the heart of this mesmerizing epic tale that follows Roxanna, born as a bad-luck child in the harsh Jewish ghetto of Tehran, through the opulent world of Iran's aristocracy, to the whorehouses of Turkey and beyond, to present-day Los Angeles. At stake are Roxanna's hopes for happiness, for escaping the bonds of Old World tradition and finding forgiveness for that most egregious of sins-desire. Weaving together strands of Persian and Jewish culture, Gina Nahai brings to life a courageous circle of women rooted in their homeland but reshaping their lives in America, the land of chances and choices.


Author Notes

Gina B. Nahai has lived in Iran, Switzeland, and the United States. She is the author of the award-winning and internationally praised Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith. A frequent lecturer on Iranian-Jewish history and the topic of exile, she has studied the politics of Iran for the U.S. Department of Defense.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Born to poor parents in the Jewish ghetto outside Tehran, Roxanna is labeled the "bad luck child" by her grandmother and thus saddled with a destiny she struggles to escape for the rest of her life. At age eight, she is given away by her father and finds herself living as a servant in the employ of an eccentric old woman named Alexandra the Cat. When Alexandra dies, Roxanna refuses to return to the family that rejected her so long ago, embarking instead on a search for the one place where her destiny cannot follow her. Told from the point of view of her daughter, Roxanna's story is beautiful and tragic. Her beauty and innocence are almost enough to rescue her from the cruelties of fate. Yet as the story progresses, we begin to see how Roxanna's own choices have driven her toward the destiny she tries to escape. --Bonnie Johnston


Publisher's Weekly Review

Iranian author Nahai's (Cry of the Peacock) richly embroidered, mythopoeic new novel is a tale worthy of Scheherazade. Miriam the Moon weaves for her niece Lili the spellbinding story of how Lili's mother, Roxanna the Angel, in the grip of a destiny she could not control, abandoned her five-year-old daughter without explanation and vanished into the Iranian night; she remained missing for the next 13 years. ("Free will and conscious decisions are mere inventions of minds too feeble to accept the reality of our absurd existence,'' Miriam tells Lily.) Beginning with Roxanna's birth in 1938 in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran, the narrative moves assuredly through her family's history and into her legend. At the time of her disappearance, in 1971, the point of view shifts from third to first person, the voice of Lili, the abandoned child. Six-year-old Lili is put on an airplane and sent off to a dreary Catholic boarding school in Pasadena, where she meets her guardian angel, a childhood friend of Roxanna's named Mercedez the Movie Star. Meanwhile, in Iran, the Shah's corrupt regime is overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini, and in the wave of Jewish persecution that follows, Miriam the Moon and her family flee to L.A. Eventually, Roxanna is spied in Turkey, and an affecting reunion with Lili ensues, although the ending, meant to be symbolic, does not quite ring true. The story moves along briskly, yet with a surreal edge, filled with characters who have such names as Alexandra the Cat and Jacob the Jello. The larger-than-life personalities of Roxanna and her family shine convincingly in the sections devoted to Iran, markedly less so when transplanted to L.A. Lili's struggle to know who she is, while fluidly rendered, lacks the resonance of Roxanna's, whose tale is marvelously compelling. 35,000 first printing; author tour; foreign rights sold to Germany, Sweden, Italy, the U.K., Greece and Holland. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

A heady, sprawling tale of women, family, and country by the Iranian-born author of Cry of the Peacock (1991. o.p.), this novel is both mesmerizing and difficult in its portrayal of what to most Western readers will seem a hard, exotic society. Weaving together an impressive cast of characters and stories, it centers on Roxanna the Angel, the bad-luck daughter of a troubled family in Tehran's Jewish ghetto, and on her daughter, Lili, whom Roxanna abandons to an unsympathetic paternal household. The reader learns of Roxanna's history and of the mysterious power of flight that accompanies her need to escape the sorrow of this history, of Lili's nearly lethal anxiety for her mother, which maintains her through a lonely childhood and adolescence, and of the powerful attraction of freedom in spite of the hardships freedom can bring. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Shah and the flight of Iranian Jews to America, this unique mother-daughter story unfolds powerfully and unforgettably. Highly recommended.‘Janet Ingraham Dwyer, Worthington P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

From: The Ghetto She was born in 1938, the daughter of Shusha the Beautiful and her tailor husband, Rahman the Ruler. Her family lived in two rooms they rented from Shusha's mother -- the terrible and terrifying BeeBee, who owned three houses in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran and who rented them room by room to anyone desperate enough to put up with her unreasonable demands and Draconian rules. BeeBee made no exception for her own daughter, and many were those in the ghetto who quietly whispered that she had never forgiven Shusha even a week's rent. The rooms were unpaved and windowless, constructed of mud and clay and connected to the courtyard by a narrow wooden door made of loose planks nailed together into a lopsided, squeaky shape. The first room was where Shusha slept with her husband, and where he worked as a tailor during the day. The second room served as the family's dining and living room, and as the children's bedroom. The children slept next to each other on the floor -- five small bodies stretched out under a single comforter, limbs intertwined and skin so accustomed to the warmth of others, not one of them could have fallen asleep in a bed by themselves. Once, when she was three years old, Roxanna awoke to a strange scent. She sat up on the sheet spread over the thin canvas rug that covered the dirt floor and that served as the only barrier between her and the insects that crawled in the dust. She was a tiny child, so thin and light her movement never disturbed anyone else. She reached over and awakened Miriam. "I dreamt I was a bird," she said. Miriam sighed and turned over. She was nine years old and had been caring for her younger siblings all her life. "Does something hurt?" she asked without opening her eyes. "No. But I can't feel my legs." Miriam felt Roxanna's forehead. "You're not warm," she concluded. "Go back to sleep." An hour later, Miriam woke up scared. She saw that Roxanna was in her own place. The other children were also sleeping. But the room, she realized, smelled strange: instead of the usual scent of skin and hair, of leftover food and old clothes and dry, unforgiving earth, Miriam the Moon smelled the sea. She lit a candle and looked around. Nothing appeared out of place. Then she saw Roxanna: her hair was wet, her arms stretched to her sides, and she was afloat in a bed of white feathers. Roxanna looked so calm and beautiful then, so immersed in her dreams of faraway mountains and emerald seas, that Miriam thought she would die if anyone awakened her. So she lay next to her, on that bed of feathers so white they looked almost blue in the moonlight, and hoped to dream her dreams. Miriam saw the feathers many more times, smelled the Caspian so often in their city thousands of miles away from the sea, she thought some nights Roxanna was going to drown. Afraid of what would happen if anyone discovered the feathers, Miriam hid them inside the comforter. She split the seam open with her fingers and stuffed the feathers on top of the existing fill of cotton that was yellowed with age and thinned from use. But after a while the weight of Roxanna's secret became too heavy for Miriam to bear alone. Once, when the air in their room had become so humid it had turned into beads of moisture and was dripping off the roof onto the children's faces and hair, Miriam went to call her mother. Shusha came barefoot and sleepy, her chador wrapped loosely around her waist, and for a moment stood above Roxanna without noticing the feathers. "Look!" Miriam grabbed a fistful and held them close to Shusha's face. "Many nights I wake up and find these in her bed." Shusha gasped as if she had been struck by lightning. Her body shook, only once, but with enough force that Miriam had to pull away from the impact. She saw the color run out of Shusha till her skin was transparent. "Who else knows about this?" Shusha asked. "No one." Miriam wished she had not called her. "I've been hiding them. I'm sure no one has a clue." Just then Tala'at, Shusha's second daughter, stirred in her sleep. She ran her hand over her neck and chest, rubbing the sweat off her skin as she whispered hoarsely to an imaginary lover. She was only eight years old and had never had any contact with men outside her immediate family. But even then she was driven by lust, by the raw, uncompromised passion that would rule her adult life. Shusha looked away from Tala'at and went outside. She sat on the steps that led from the bedroom down into the courtyard, then signaled for Miriam to sit next to her. She was a stunning woman -- dark skinned and dark eyed and so hauntingly beautiful she created a sense of confusion and sadness in anyone who saw her unveiled. But she had always seemed unaware, or perhaps ashamed, of her own beauty. "Do you understand you can't tell anyone about the feathers?" she asked Miriam. Miriam nodded. "Do you know where they come from?" Miriam began to answer, then stopped. They lived under a veil of silence then, a web of secrets spread over a thousand years, nurtured by a reverence for the power of the spoken word and a fear of its consequences. So Miriam did not speak, and Shusha did not tell Miriam what she knew so well: that the feathers in Roxanna's bed came from her dreams, that in them Roxanna was flying like a bird, or an angel, over a sea that was vast and limitless and that led her away from the tight borders of their ghetto, that the wings and the sea air spilled over the edge of the night sometimes, skipping the line between desire and truth, and poured into Roxanna's bed to speak of her longings. Copyright © 1999 by Gina Barkhorder Nahai Excerpted from Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith by Gina B. Nahai All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

From: The Ghetto
She was born in 1938, the daughter of Shusha the Beautiful and her tailor husband, Rahman the Ruler. Her family lived in two rooms they rented from Shusha's mother -- the terrible and terrifying BeeBee, who owned three houses in the Jewish ghetto of Tehran and who rented them room by room to anyone desperate enough to put up with her unreasonable demands and Draconian rules. BeeBee made no exception for her own daughter, and many were those in the ghetto who quietly whispered that she had never forgiven Shusha even a week's rent.
The rooms were unpaved and windowless, constructed of mud and clay and connected to the courtyard by a narrow wooden door made of loose planks nailed together into a lopsided, squeaky shape. The first room was where Shusha slept with her husband, and where he worked as a tailor during the day. The second room served as the family's dining and living room, and as the children's bedroom.
The children slept next to each other on the floor -- five small bodies stretched out under a single comforter, limbs intertwined and skin so accustomed to the warmth of others, not one of them could have fallen asleep in a bed by themselves.
Once, when she was three years old, Roxanna awoke to a strange scent. She sat up on the sheet spread over the thin canvas rug that covered the dirt floor and that served as the only barrier between her and the insects that crawled in the dust. She was a tiny child, so thin and light her movement never disturbed anyone else. She reached over and awakened Miriam.
"I dreamt I was a bird," she said.
Miriam sighed and turned over. She was nine years old and had been caring for her younger siblings all her life.
"Does something hurt?" she asked without opening her eyes.
"No. But I can't feel my legs."
Miriam felt Roxanna's forehead.
"You're not warm," she concluded. "Go back to sleep."
An hour later, Miriam woke up scared. She saw that Roxanna was in her own place. The other children were also sleeping. But the room, she realized, smelled strange: instead of the usual scent of skin and hair, of leftover food and old clothes and dry, unforgiving earth, Miriam the Moon smelled the sea.
She lit a candle and looked around. Nothing appeared out of place. Then she saw Roxanna: her hair was wet, her arms stretched to her sides, and she was afloat in a bed of white feathers.
Roxanna looked so calm and beautiful then, so immersed in her dreams of faraway mountains and emerald seas, that Miriam thought she would die if anyone awakened her. So she lay next to her, on that bed of feathers so white they looked almost blue in the moonlight, and hoped to dream her dreams.
Miriam saw the feathers many more times, smelled the Caspian so often in their city thousands of miles away from the sea, she thought some nights Roxanna was going to drown. Afraid of what would happen if anyone discovered the feathers, Miriam hid them inside the comforter. She split the seam open with her fingers and stuffed the feathers on top of the existing fill of cotton that was yellowed with age and thinned from use. But after a while the weight of Roxanna's secret became too heavy for Miriam to bear alone. Once, when the air in their room had become so humid it had turned into beads of moisture and was dripping off the roof onto the children's faces and hair, Miriam went to call her mother.
Shusha came barefoot and sleepy, her chador wrapped loosely around her waist, and for a moment stood above Roxanna without noticing the feathers.
"Look!" Miriam grabbed a fistful and held them close to Shusha's face. "Many nights I wake up and find these in her bed."
Shusha gasped as if she had been struck by lightning. Her body shook, only once, but with enough force that Miriam had to pull away from the impact. She saw the color run out of Shusha till her skin was transparent.
"Who else knows about this?" Shusha asked.
"No one." Miriam wished she had not called her. "I've been hiding them. I'm sure no one has a clue."
Just then Tala'at, Shusha's second daughter, stirred in her sleep. She ran her hand over her neck and chest, rubbing the sweat off her skin as she whispered hoarsely to an imaginary lover. She was only eight years old and had never had any contact with men outside her immediate family. But even then she was driven by lust, by the raw, uncompromised passion that would rule her adult life.
Shusha looked away from Tala'at and went outside. She sat on the steps that led from the bedroom down into the courtyard, then signaled for Miriam to sit next to her. She was a stunning woman -- dark skinned and dark eyed and so hauntingly beautiful she created a sense of confusion and sadness in anyone who saw her unveiled. But she had always seemed unaware, or perhaps ashamed, of her own beauty.
"Do you understand you can't tell anyone about the feathers?" she asked Miriam.
Miriam nodded.
"Do you know where they come from?"
Miriam began to answer, then stopped. They lived under a veil of silence then, a web of secrets spread over a thousand years, nurtured by a reverence for the power of the spoken word and a fear of its consequences. So Miriam did not speak, and Shusha did not tell Miriam what she knew so well: that the feathers in Roxanna's bed came from her dreams, that in them Roxanna was flying like a bird, or an angel, over a sea that was vast and limitless and that led her away from the tight borders of their ghetto, that the wings and the sea air spilled over the edge of the night sometimes, skipping the line between desire and truth, and poured into Roxanna's bed to speak of her longings.
Copyright © 1999 by Gina Barkhorder Nahai

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