I wonder why
Jumping over Fire
is not as well known as
The Kite Runner.
Nahid Rachin in this book set partly in Iran and partly in the USA captures Iranian society in transition. The picture painted will be found to be extremely familiar to any reader who has read
The Kite Runner
. The Iranian part of the book is set in the last days of the Shah’s rule and the story unfolds through the eyes of Norah Ellahi, the daughter of an Iranian father and an American mother. They are part of the elitist section of Iranian society with Norah’s father working as a doctor in the hospital operated by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, considered one of the principal tools of the Shah’s stooge imperialism. The book certainly describes an extravagant lifestyle of the Ellahi family to which Nora and her brother Jahan belong.
The problem of identity is one that this book wrestles with and it does so at several levels. There is the question of finding your identity when half of you are Iranian and half American and society is rapidly turning rapidly anti American. There is the story of the identity of an adopted child which Norah’s brother Jahan is and the horror and the bewilderment of that discovery. there is the problem of being liberal in a society that is traditional at best and orthodox at worst and rapidly becoming more so. Mid way through the book , the family secretly emigrate to the USA, where they seek political asylum and another journey of identity begins for Norah and Jahan – to be identified as American when the typical American student sees Iranians as “the enemy”, especially after a group of Iranians take American embassy officials as hostages. For Jahan, the identity issue would never be resolved, and in looks more Asian and obviously Iranian than his sister, he gives up along the way and begins a reverse journey back into Iran – identifying more closely with every thing that his parents and sister had consciously abandoned and in eventually choosing to trace out and live with his birth mother
The book is also great in capturing a society in change and transition. it begins with the children living what can only be described privileged lives in the refinery town of Masjid –e –Suleiman with the barest of restrictions and deference to local culture; a contrast that the children only experience when they visit their father’s country retreat at Meigoon where the large joint family follows tradition and typical Islamic practice like the
. But the cities largely and certainly the anglicized enclaves where the elite live are Westernized and liberated and these trips to the country side are few and far between.
All this changes of course and once the Shah and his West leaning regime falls and the and the Ayatollah Khomeini comes to power, what was till now an aberration becomes the norm. Islamic values are more strictly enforced and other traditions even if deeply Persian and anciently rooted – like Nauroz, the traditional Spring New Year and the customs and celebration associated with them are increasingly outlawed and go underground. This is some thing that Norah is happy to run away from and Jahan is only willing to embrace even though Islamic values would run counter to a long running incestuous relationship with his sister – a theme that Nahid Rachin introduces to what purpose is a mystery.
Jumping over Fire
is a story with a sweeping backdrop of history that is recent and immediate, with implications for events now unfolding in the Middle East.
portrayed for us the changes in Afghanistan; this one talks about the changes in Iran; except that the Islamic society in Iran would seem relatively humane and welcomed compared to the loathing that the Taliban seemed to generally arouse.