Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Book Review: Love and War in the Jewish Quarter

By Sara Steven

A breathtaking journey across Iran where war and superstition, jealousy and betrayal, and passion and loyalty rage behind the impenetrable walls of mansions and the crumbling houses of the Jewish Quarter.

Against the tumultuous background of World War II, Dr. Yaran will find himself caught in the thrall of the anti-Semitic Governor General, the most powerful man in the country. Dr. Yaran falls in love with the Governor General’s defiant wife, Velvet, upending not only the life of the doctor’s beloved daughter, but the entire community. In his quest to save everything and everyone he loves, Dr. Yaran will navigate the intersections of magic, science, lust, and treachery. His sole ally is the Governor General’s servant, an exotic eunuch, who will do anything to aid his mistress in her dangerous quest to attain forbidden love. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads.)

Love and War in the Jewish Quarter is a unique and eye-opening experience. While I feel I’ve learned a lot about World War II, I haven’t seen much out there about the experiences a Jewish community goes through while trying to survive in 1940s Iran. Whenever Dr. Yaran has to travel in order to assist the Governor General, I feared for him, but I appreciated seeing the world through his viewpoint. There is a particular scene where there are several violent marching men and the Jewish Quarter knows it is safe to stay indoors, not be seen–yet, Yaran has been tasked to help the General, so he must go. It’s that, or risk death by the hands of the General. Which is the lesser of the two evils? It seemed he lived his life by that motto. Going with what is the lesser of the evils in a world where it is nothing but.

The story of Tulip the eunuch was so sad, only adding more ire to my feelings towards the General. For some, human life is not precious. And, even after Yaran does all he can for the General, it doesn’t mean feelings will change. Yaran and Velvet are like a trauma-based Romeo and Juliet–born out of a way of life that is hard, doing what they can to attain what little beauty and love they can find. It’s hard to imagine anything good could come from loving someone who is married to violence and anti-Semitism. Things aren’t so easy for Yaran, either. They want him to find a woman who can be a mother to his little girl, but not Velvet. No one supports their relationship, other than Tulip, and even that ebbs and flows depending on the risk.  

Yaran’s little girl was an interesting character. Born from tragedy and also from a strange, rare circumstance, she became an advanced child who could talk in full sentences and accomplish other feats at a very early age. If anything, that was the one part that I had a hard time reconciling with. It seemed even as an infant she could do things that a lot of children can’t do. I get that she is written in such a way to show that her extraordinary circumstances allowed her to do extraordinary things, but I still snagged on that fact whenever I read scenes with her in it. It didn’t seem as believable to me. But that aside, I enjoyed who she was as a character, particularly when it comes to orchestrating what becomes necessary in order for Yaran to be happy. 

There were a lot of moments that dealt with doing what is considered right by society, or culture, or religion, and trying to reconcile doing what is right for yourself. This concept played out on both sides of the coin, eventually leading Yaran and Velvet to really reconsider what it would mean to have a relationship during a time when they would never feel as though they are accepted. The way that played out felt realistic and honest, and I was eager to see how things would turn out for them.

Thanks to Emi Battaglia PR for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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