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Cry of the Peacock

Review

Cry of the Peacock

Gina
Nahai's best-selling novel, CRY OF THE PEACOCK, is a sweeping tale
of the persecution and intolerance of Jews in Iran, set against the
backdrop of the rise and fall of Muslim kings and shahs. Rich with
history and evocative of place, CRY OF THE PEACOCK's moving
portrait of an oppressed people never becomes disconsolate.
Instead, like the veils that mask the faces of women in Iran, the
lives of this forgotten people are brought into stark relief
through the author's storytelling prowess. Throughout the novel
flows an undercurrent of mysticism and superstition reminiscent of
Latin American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende;
but restrained by the realities of this world, this contrast
provides both a concrete foundation upon which to build characters
and places, yet allows a freedom of imagination that is vital to
bringing this affecting tale of one family to life. Nahai's
depiction of this family, its morality, and the way it endures the
repression of Islamic society is compelling and believable.

The story begins in 1796, with magical Esther the Soothsayer's
flight from a childless fate. She watches her descendants through
200 years of war, plagues, and perseverance, all of which mark the
existence of the oldest group of Jews outside the Diaspora.
Esther's prophetic words are the key to the fortunes of mighty
Islamic rulers and the Jews of Iran, told while naming her
great-granddaughter, Peacock. Peacock the Jew is 116 years old when
she finds herself in prison shortly after the revolution that
brings the Ayatollah Khomeni to power in Iran. The times are
tumultuous, but Peacock knows that all power is transitory.
Throughout her life, she has gone from most favored by those in
power to cast into the gutter by her husband; she has been the
object of ridicule and desire, often simultaneously. Ultimately,
she holds to her faith and the assurance that, despite the
predicaments she and her people have faced, her progeny has secured
a better life in the United States.

Nahai's narrative captures the gestures and daily habits of the
impoverished ghetto dwellers of Persia. Each person, as the story
moves from Esther through her children and children's children,
becomes the focus of the account. Peacock's prison experience
bookends the telling, as classic themes of misunderstanding between
Jew and Muslim, impoverished and wealthy play out. Although a work
of fiction, Nahai based the novel in part on interviews with
Iranian Jews; her language captures the wonderful rhythm and flow
of everyday speech, though sometimes the voices of individuals feel
awkward as the point of view changes. In the end, the use of
expansive sentences serves to illustrate the complexity of speech
and thought as well as the underlying struggles occurring in each
character.

Nahai, a Jew and a native of Iran, lives in the United States and
teaches writing at the University of Southern California. Now in
paperback, CRY OF THE PEACOCK could be her own family's story, or
the story of any Jew whose family has found freedom in the United
States.

Reviewed by Kelly Koepke on January 21, 2011

Cry of the Peacock
by Gina B. Nahai

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2000
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • ISBN-10: 0743403371
  • ISBN-13: 9780743403375