Cover image for The Persia Café
The Persia Café
Neilson, Melany, 1958-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
276 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"Thomas Dunne books."
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Having come within an inch of her life, Fannie Leary is determined to take a good look at it -- to figure out, in fact, what is her part in the tragedy.Growing up in a small Mississippi River town, Fannie works at the local cafe, trying to hold her own in a world of slow expectations and hard boundaries.Dreaming that her cooking will be her ticket out of Persia, she cleaves to Mattie, the irrepressible black woman who runs the kitchen; to Will, the troubled, quiet boy she falls in love with; and eventually to Sheila Jones, a reclusive young girl who has returned with her mother from California to the town after her father's death.But when a young black boy suddenly disappears and the town erupts in violence, she is the only one who can piece their story together.What she uncovers is as unexpected as it is heartbreaking.The Persia Caf examines the ordinariness of racism, and what people will do to one another in the name of loyalty.It is a story of a place where dreams are paid for in blood.But it is also about a woman who has other, perhaps even more complex business to attend as she confronts a vastly transforming world, and the personal search she must make, the difficult question she must ultimately ask: How do you forgive those who show no regret, or even understanding?A novel about innocence passing, along with an American age, The Persia Caf is a story of murder, betrayal, and the possibility of redemption.With The Persia Caf, award-winning author Melany Neilson establishes herself as a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction.AUTHORBIO: Melany Neilson grew up on a farm near Ebenezer, Mississippi.Her first book, Even Mississippi, won the Lillian Smith Award, the Mississippi Authors Award, was named Gustavas Myers Outstanding Book on Human Rights, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.She now lives in California with her husband, Fred Slabach, and her young twin sons.The Persia Caf is her first novel.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Neilson's critically praised memoir, Even Mississippi (1989), addressed Mississippi racial politics in the 1980s. Her involving first novel is set in early `60s Mississippi, in a river town named Persia. Fannie Leary, who helps her aunt run the Persia Cafe, wants to learn all she can from the restaurant's African American cook, Mattie, because she hopes to get somewhere--perhaps even out of Persia--based on culinary skill. Fannie's been married for about a year to her childhood sweetheart, but he drinks too much and has emotional problems, so their relationship is troubled. Most of the white folks in Persia pass through the cafein the course of the day; the town's movers and shakers are at the counter one morning when an incident out back makes it clear a local white teenager is involved with a young black man. The townspeoples' action, and what Fannie does in response, are the heart of Neilson's story. A Literary Guild dual main selection and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate, so anticipate requests. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

"To the tables I hauled more fried chicken. More baked ham. Delicate corn pudding," says Fannie Leary, the narrator of Neilson's richly rendered debut novel, as she describes her work cooking and serving her neighbors. Like the caf of its title, the narrative serves up old-fashioned fare, and lots of it, lovingly prepared. Persia, Miss., is a classic small Southern town, and the story Neilson tells is heartbreakingly familiar, depicting the death throes of the Jim Crow South. In the summer of 1962, Earnest March, a young black man, is seen driving away from his white girlfriend, who is clearly upset, and all the men in town take off after him. They report that he got away, but some days later, Fannie discovers his body floating in the Mississippi. Just who is responsible for Earnest March's death is clear, even to Fannie, but how that murder changes Fannie and the town, whether anyone in her own family was involved and whether guilt can be proved are mysteries that Neilson artfully develops. All this is narrated in sensuous and vivid prose: a cook's hands are "yellow-gloved in cornmeal"; first sex leaves a young woman thinking of "salt and green onion." However, as Fanny remarks, "There is a narrow moment between ripeness and rot," and Neilson's sentences sometimes ripen beyond clarity. Moreover, the engine of plot often kicks in too noisily. But Neilson lavishes such attention on the town and its people that she captures something precious: the feel of a culture at a particular time and the ineffable moment a heart changes. Agent, Nina Graybill. (Jan.) Forecast: Neilson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir, Even Mississippi, is poised to break out with her fiction debut. Initial interest will be fostered by the book clubsDThe Persia Caf is a Literary Guild dual main selection and a Doubleday Book Club featured alternate Dbut Neilson's genuinely appealing tale should also generate word-of-mouth sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The subject matter of this debut novel by the author of the 1989 memoir Even Mississippi is reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird or Ernest Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying. A town in Mississippi is rocked to its core in 1961 when a young black man is found murdered, washed up on the river's shore. Fannie Leary, the white owner of the town's only caf, discovers the body, but when she brings the sheriff back to the scene, it has disappeared. Fannie struggles to reconcile the expectation that she keep silent with what she feels she owes to Mattie, her black cook and cousin of the murdered boy. The story comes out, the FBI comes to investigate, and the white community whose balance she has disrupted shuns Fannie. This is a powerful story of the toll of racism, of the relationships between people of different races, and of events from our past that come back to haunt us. Woven throughout are references to Fannie's love of creative cooking. Neilson has written a compelling story that will leave the reader wanting more characters like Fannie. Recommended for all public libraries. [A Literary Guild main selection and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate.]DKaren Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.