Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

Posted October 19, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 8 Comments

Disoriental by Négar DjavadiTitle: Disoriental (Goodreads)
Author: Négar Djavadi
Translator: Tina Kover
Published: Europa Edition, 2018
Pages: 338
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature 2018
Longlisted for the BTBA 2019

Normally I am not a fan of multi-generational stories but there is always an exception to the rule and Disoriental is just that. My major problem is that there is never enough time spent with the characters. In this novel we follow Kimiâ Sadr who fled Iran with her mother and sisters at the age of ten. They join their father in France in the hopes for a better life. Now fifteen years later Kimiâ is overwhelmed with the memories of her ancestors.

What I loved about this novel is the way Négar Djavadi focuses specifically on one person but uses her as the foundation to look at the ancestry of her family. The constant waves of memories and stories are the driving force of Disoriental which allows the reader to explore the cultural history of Iran. From her great-grandfather Montazemolmolk, who had a harem of fifty-two wives, to Kimiâ, a queer woman sitting in a Parisian fertility clinic.

The inner flap refers to this novel as a kaleidoscopic story and I cannot think of a better way to describe Disoriental. We experience many key moments in Iranian history from the perspective of the Sadr family. We look at the cultural changes, the politics and the family throughout. The difference between Kimiâ and her great-grandfather are vastly different. A key element I found fascinating was the treatment of the LGBTQI community. A place where losing your virginity before marriage, having an affair, or abortion, or even a drug addiction is better than being a homosexual. I was surprised to learn that sex changes are legal in Iran, it is better to change your entire gender identity than be same sex attracted.

This whole history makes up the struggle for Kimiâ in the fertility clinic. She is torn between family traditions and her own ‘disorientalisation’ as a modern woman. While this might sound like a bleak novel and in many ways it really is, Négar Djavadi offers so much tenderness to the whole experience as well. We look at the history, we see the family dramas but we also see the triumphs as well. Living in Paris where Kimiâ has more freedom than she may have had in an alternate life. There is so much more to explore within Disoriental but for me this was a novel of identity. Her family’s past defines Kimiâ Sadr as much as her own identity.

I found so much tenderness within such an important book. It was the little moments in their lives that really helped along the way. For example at the beginning of the novel Kimiâ’s father Dirius never took the elevator. He say they were for ‘them’ and by ‘them’ he meant the citizens of France. In this little anecdote we see so much about the attitude he had as an immigrant. Without going into the bleak backstory we know Dirius Sadr sees himself as a second-class citizen not wanting to do anything that might offend the people around him. This small tale says so much without going into specifics. It is this kind of storytelling that allows Négar Djavadi to write about so much about the world without adding to the bleakness.

I am very impressed with Disoriental. I love a novel that can explore important subjects and deal with the current start of the world without making the whole reading experience feel like a chore. I assume that this novel is semi-biographical but I am only speculating. Négar Djavadi has done an amazing job and it is important to have novels like Disoriental in the world. Tina Kover did a wonderful job translating this book which allows me to understand a little more about the world I live in. I highly recommend Disoriental, and it is my pick to win the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2018.

8 responses to “Disoriental by Négar Djavadi

  1. How lucky am I! I looked this up in the library catalogue, and there is was, waiting for me on the shelf. It just has to be moved from another branch to mine, and then I can borrow it!

  2. This sounds interesting and I’d like to read it, but my local library doesn’t have it. The WA library system does have 3 copies , but we now have to wait until a book has been in the system for 12 months before we are *permitted* to request an interlibrary loan. You just know what I think about that!!! They’re sick of me complaining about their new stupid rules. We are not *allowed* to request an interlibrary loan for DVDs, children’s books or YA at ALL now. WTAF, SLWA? The local library staff scuttle away and look busy whenever I approach the counter these days. 🙂

    I received my copy of Killing Commendatore today. The Book Shelf podcast had a good discussion on the novel and it piqued my interest at the time, although 10 days later I’m not really sure if I want to read it. I’ll see if I can get into it. Are you planning on giving it a go?

    • I am well aware of your issues with SLWA (I had to look that up). I am sure you are very upset with the lack of YA in your life. Disoriental was so good I hope you get a chance to read it.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Killing Commendatore. I’ve not heard the bookshelf and I listen to a fair few bookish podcasts. Is it worth adding to my rotation? I think I’m done with Murakami but if I hear good things from people I trust maybe I’ll give it a go

      • The Bookshelf has the usual Radio National ethos. It’s mostly reviews of books just published, so I don’t listen very often. They have good guest reviewers, so it’s informative and the level of discussion is quite high.

        I think I might have been sucked in to buying the new Murakami. It’s a nice looking book, so that’s something, at least. Hahaha! I kind of miss the buddy reads thing that we book bloggers used to do ‘in the old days’. That gave me incentive to keep going with a book when I flagged. I think we read IQ84 at the same time? I’m so out of the loop these days. It’s all booktube and podcasts now. How’s your pod going? Do you like making them or is it a hassle to think of things to say?

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