Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Made for Marriage

STRAND OF A THOUSAND PEARLS: A Novel, By Dorit Rabinyan, Random House: 288 pp., $23.95

June 23, 2002|ERICA DA COSTA | Erica Da Costa is a writer whose reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post Book World.

Dorit Rabinyan made her debut at the age of 22 with "Persian Brides," a novel about two girls growing up in the Jewish quarter of a 15th century Persian village. Her second novel, "Strand of a Thousand Pearls," flows over readers like the first with scents and aromas, textures and tastes. This time the emanations are from a present-day Persian family in Israel.

Rabinyan loosely structures her novel as a patchwork of marriage-narratives in which the five Azizyan children are born, raised and married. Much as tradition dictates, the Azizyan family matriarch, named Iran, has determined that matrimony is the reason and goal for her children's lives. But the consequences of a marriage-oriented existence prove to be quietly devastating, exacerbated by the 20th century epidemic of romantic love that has spread like viral madness through the very foundations of culture, infecting even the most practical of institutions, marriage.

Reality ravages the Azizyan children's marital fantasies. Marcelle, for example, spends seven years obsessing about a young man she has never spoken to. She marries him only to discover, on her wedding night, that she does not want him at all. The marriage stories overlap and weave together in a rich pattern that resembles a parable or family legend.

Rabinyan does something particularly interesting with the voice of the narrator, which is primarily an invisible third-person observer. Almost imperceptibly, her narration slips into the first person. Each member of the Azizyan family is referred to by name, but the five children are occasionally referred to collectively as "us." The narrator descends into the narrative but refuses to become a specific character. Who is this "we" that the narrator reveals but never explains? Does it refer to Persian Israelis, the Middle East, womankind, humankind? Perhaps the narrator is the collective soul of Iran's children. The novel is so fecund as to allow many meanings.

Rabinyan's story is, above all, about women: from Iran, who comes from a distant time and place, to her youngest daughter Matti, a wild unbalanced creature whose Ritalin-popping habit brings us to a distinctively modern moment. The prose seethes with metaphor and overwhelming lyricism: "Of all of us, Marcelle was the one whom Papa knew really well. They met at dawn, the coldest hour of the twenty-four, when souls rub against each other to keep warm, and seek comfort, by becoming acquainted."

"Strand of a Thousand Pearls" is less a story than a portrait of a family caught at the intersection of the ancient and the contemporary. The Azizyan family seems at once mythological and horribly real, their rich cultural milieu debased by hard realities like plastic photo albums and special-needs classes for disturbed children. Rabinyan is less concerned with plumbing the depths of individual psyches than with capturing the spirit of a people, and in this she succeeds.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|