The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is really an embodiment of Iranian life in constant oscillation, struggle and play between four opposing poles: life and death; politics and religion. The sorrow residing in the depths of our joy is the product of a life between these four poles.
The novel is multi-layered; one layer is rooted to the material world while others connect to the supernatural and mystical realms. The material layer is informed by political, social and cultural events, including the events surrounding the Iranian Revolution, such as book burnings, arbitrary interrogations and arrests, and execution of people who found treasures and antiquities.
Another layer is based in the supernatural; the mythical, legendary, fantastical and mystical, which are based in popular belief in Iran. Bushasp the demon of sleep, Huma the bird of happiness, the myth of the Tree of Life, Al, Jinns, spirits, Azrael, fate-altering dreams and mystical visions and enlightenment appear throughout.
Yet another layer is linguistic. The novel is heavily influenced by the tone and language of the Iranian-Persian storytelling tradition which Westerners are familiar with in the much-loved Persian classic, One Thousand and One Nights, that immerses the reader on a journey from one story to the next.
The history of oppression in Iran is as old as the country’s mysticism, and the history of its myth and imagination is older than both. It is for this reason that Iranian life today is lived between the real and the imaginary. The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree overwhelms the reader with sorrow, just as sorrow has penetrated every layer of Iranian life, for only then will it be possible to understand what it means to be Iranian in the modern world.
Praise for Shokoofeh Azar and The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree:
“This is magic realism flipped. The magical world is shot through with realism. The writing is ravishing: shimmeringly poetic. Even as the story progresses and the mood darkens, the narrator holds beauty as close as a talisman.”
–Miriam Cosic; The Weekend Australian Book Reviews
“If this book were a painting, the canvas would be too large to fit into a gallery. With all the beauty and the horror, the supernatural and the realistic, the love and the hatred, if ever there was a book that needs to be read more than once, this is it.”
–Erich Mayer; ArtsHub
I was swept away by [this book]. In fact it reminded me of what a book can be – how it can devastate you and console you simultaneously – and I loved the thread of philosophical questioning throughout. I couldn’t start another book afterwards, for days. I had to think, to let it all sink in.
–Dani Powell; Artistic Director, NT Writers’ Festival – Alice Springs
“This book is alive … it speaks to us about the human condition and about how we live our lives in the most profound, beautiful, eloquent, complex, messy at times, chaotic, traumatic, extraordinary fashion – and in that sense, it is a real book of life. A true book that affirms life through some of the most extraordinary suffering that you can experience.”
–Professor Baden Offord; Curtin Centre for Human Rights
“It is incredible. It reminded me of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but altogether different. I have never read such a voice before. It is playful, poetic and deeply melancholy at the same time. Azar writes about the blunt force of Iranian history with the lightness of a feather’s touch. Transcendental, brilliant and beautiful.”
–Alice Pung; author
“Elements of magic realism that appear in the form of portentous dragonflies, forest jinns and mermaids suffuse the narrative and dictate the fate of the characters in a way that stands in stark contrast to the material circumstances that alter their lives—the desecration of Western-influenced cultural materials, the merciless interrogations, and the mass executions of political prisoners. It recalls The Lovely Bones, which utilises the perspective of an omniscient child narrator to great effect, and Life of Pi, which adroitly obscures fact with fiction.”
–Sonia Nair; writer and critic
“Stylistically similar to Eka Kurniawan’s acclaimed Beauty is a Wound, this novel is set in the aftermath of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Many scenes, most memorably Azar’s handling of Beeta’s fate, blend heavy darkness with allegorical flights of imagination, marking the author as an assured fabulist. She brings to colourful life an extended family replete with beauty, humour and tragedy.”