The life of Iranian exiles in Toronto and the rumour that there is a traitorous woman in their midst provides drama and a lot of soul-searching in A Palace in Paradise (2019, Inanna Publications). Ferdous, a poor single Iranian woman with mental health issues has made up her mind to help a fellow Iranian-Canadian woman, Frida, by donating a kidney. Her decision causes a rift between her friend Nadereh and her social worker, Parvaneh. Nadereh believes that Ferdous is not of sound mind to make such a major decision, and Parveneh believes it is Ferdous’ business if she wants to do such a thing. Nadereh pleads with Parvaneh to intercede:
“Isn’t she aware of the seriousness of the sacrifice she is making? I’ll do my best, but my words don’t mean anything to Ferdous. She doesn’t look at me the same way she does you. Sweet, innocent Ferdous doesn’t put much stock in my opinions. I’m nobody in her view, just a nothing. But you have a place in the community. You can make an impression on her.”
Parvaneh placed her hand gently on Nadareh’s arm and said, “I don’t understand what you find problematic about her decision. She’s doing a very humane thing.”
Nadereh looked directly into Parvaneh’s eyes, struggling to control herself. She said angrily, “A humane thing! For someone who has control of their faculties, yes, it is a humane act, but not for Ferdous; she needs help herself. They’re taking advantage of her and she doesn’t know it. She believes she’s doing a selfless thing, but there’s no humanity in it. I spit on any humanity that Ghobad and Ibrahim represent. Doesn’t Ghobad have enough money now? He could easily take Frida to another part of the world where he could buy a kidney for her. I don’t understand why you’re feeling sorry for Frida. They’re disgusting.”
“Nadereh, don’t take it so badly. Frida has seen her share of misery. If you knew about her…”
“1 know, I know. But has her life been any more difficult than mine has? And now, look at her, look at me. Are we in the same situation? What about poor Ferdous? Why doesn’t anyone feel sorry for her? Everyone wants to use her to solve their own problems. The Iranians who are so proud of themselves, they have all forgotten about her. As Ferdous says, no one has any patience for a person with mental health issues. But it’s not right to take advantage of the poor woman either. “
A Palace in Paradise is a truly good read from the author of the short story collection The Street of Butterflies. I genuinely enjoyed finding out more about life in Iran after the revolution, and the weighty decision of leaving your family and homeland to come to a different country, for there are many challenges: work, shelter, family responsibilities and obligations. Ms. Yalfani treats all her characters with kindness and empathy, but no more so than she does with poor Ferdous, the woman suspected to be a “tavah” or a traitor.
Every character has lost someone and Ferdous simply wants to donate one of her kidneys to Frida. A Palace in Paradise is another well-penned work of fiction from Ms. Yalfani.
“Mehri Yalfani’s A Palace in Paradise fills an important gap in contemporary fiction, bringing the Irani-Canadian diaspora into critical focus through a predominantly female cast of characters—émigrés who seek in Toronto and its environs a space of refuge and forgetting, while discovering, among a community of exiles still shackled to the shadow of history, that it is only in those quiet acts of will, like those private acts of kindness, that we possess the power to set ourselves free.” —Mariam Pirbhai, Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University, and award-winning author of Outside People and Other Stories
A Palace in Paradise by Mehri Yalfani
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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.