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A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea: A Novel Paperback – January 7, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Saba Hafezi is certain that she remembers her beloved twin sister, Mahtab, and her mother fleeing Iran for America in 1981, leaving Saba, age 11, behind to live with her emotionally distant father. A determined Saba clings to this memory while growing up in her small rural village under the eyes of her surrogate family—three female neighbors who warily entertain Saba’s insistence that Mahtab is alive and well—and alongside her best friends Reza and Ponneh. Saba is fascinated with American pop culture and vividly imagines Mahtab’s much happier parallel life in America as her own often brutal life unfolds. Saba reluctantly chooses marriage over college, a decision that provides her with financial security at a horrific cost. Meanwhile, Ponneh’s activism plunges the lifelong friends into an increasingly complex relationship while inching Saba closer to the truth behind her mother and sister’s disappearance. In this substantial novel, Nayeri weaves a variety of narratives throughout Saba’s inner and outer journeys, creating a dense exploration of memory and hope within the harsh realities of postrevolutionary Iran. --Leah Strauss --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Lovely."—Vanity Fair

"A feel-good family tale."—Cosmopolitan

"Ambitious . . . There’s a kaleidoscopic quality to Dina Nayeri’s prose, evoking the beat of Eastern storytelling, while its cadences remain resolutely American. . . . The novel’s message, however, is universal: we must do all we can to control our own fates."—The Daily Mail

“What a tremendous gift [Nayeri] offers us throughout the book, an opportunity to connect with the richness of Iran, while simultaneously enlarging our understanding of the human experience.”—Baltimore Times

"Set in the 1980s and early 1990s in a northern Iranian village, the novel draws out a rich and sensual old-world life. . . . Told through memory, fantasy, and conjecture, the rest of the novel is as much about storytelling––its art, lies, comforts, truths, pitfalls, and saving grace—as it is about anything else. We see a complex—albeit sad—“new Iran”: a country that is post-revolution, in the throes of war, and constantly falling short of its characters’ expectations and dreams.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

"Nayeri’s highly accomplished debut is a rich, multilayered reading experience. Structurally complex, the overriding theme is storytelling in all its forms, and the fine line between truth and lies. Each one of the large cast of characters is fully realized and sympathetic. Saba is a captivating heroine whose tragedies and triumphs will carry readers on a long but engrossing ride."—Library Journal (starred review)

“From the imprint that brought you Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner; the sort of embracing and embraceable culturally far-reaching fiction Riverhead does best.”—Booklist

"[An] elegant aspirational novel of life in post-revolutionary Iran. . . . Richly imaginative . . . Lyrical, humane, and hopeful."—Kirkus

“Charming and engrossing, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a vivid and evocative story about the places we love, the places we long for—and the places we can only imagine.”—Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles

"Pure magic: lyrical, captivating, funny, and heartbreaking. Entering the world of the intriguing Saba Hafezi and her friends in a seaside village in northern Iran, I lost my heart.” —Jean Kwok, author of Girl in Translation

“Captivating. It reminds us how storytelling can save our lives. A brilliant debut.”—Michelle Huneven, author of Blame
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594632324
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594632327
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,236,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

I think that this book was well written and well worth reading.
M. Reynard
Author Nayeri's beautiful and imaginative prose with its vivid descriptions of Iran made this a captivating read.
Z Hayes
Great writing, interesting backstory and setting, and realistic characters make this a book I'm glad I read.
Jennifer Donovan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea," by Dina Nayeri, is at once both a moving coming-of-age tale and an effective social protest novel. The book is set in rural Iran during the turbulent years following the fall of the Shah and beginning of the Islamic Republic.

The novel begins in 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution. The main character, Saba Hafezi, is eleven years old. The narrative follows Saba's life chronologically until she reaches twenty-two, at which point a major change happens in her life that propels her toward a better future. The book ends with a short epilogue showing what has become of Saba some ten years later. Intertwined within the story of Saba's life is a powerful social protest novel about women's rights in Iran after the Iranian Revolution.

The story of Saba is made complex and fascinating by introducing numerous opposing multicultural and narrative elements. Saba's parents are from the Iranian upper class; they are cosmopolitan, wealthy, well-educated, and converts from Islam to Christianity. Life in Iran after the Revolution threatens almost everything that they value most in their lives. They realize that they must flee to the West, but that is extremely risky and difficult. If they stay, they risk being exposed as converts, a crime punishable by death.

The novel begins in chaos at the Tehran airport. Saba is led to believe that she and her twin sister are about to depart Iran for America with their mother, temporarily leaving their father, who will follow later. But something happens in the airport that Saba can't remember clearly, and it appears that her mother flew off with her twin sister, leaving Saba and her father alone to live their lives in Iran.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Catherine on February 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the first scene I was drawn in to the story and setting of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea. The author writes vividly and lyrically about how the main character, Saba, a young girl separated from her mother and twin sister, copes with loss by contrasting her Iranian village upbringing with the imagined life her sister might lead in America. The juxtaposition of what is beautiful and what is dark in Iranian society, and what Saba constructs as the American dream from bootlegged music and movies, combines to give the novel a depth of insight not only into cultural differences, but also into growing up and finding a place in the world. The descriptions of the setting are poignant, as the author shows her love for Iran even as she explores themes of dissent and resistance.

With beautiful writing, well-developed and memorable characters, and a compelling story, this novel definitely rates five stars. I'd recommend it for fans of literary fiction, readers who are interested in Iran, or those who enjoy unusually well-done and unique coming-of-age stories.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Utah Mom VINE VOICE on February 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sometimes there are books that just take my breath away. I often find myself reading these rare books more slowly--putting the book down right in the middle of an emotional scene so that I can think about it for awhile before I continue; lingering on a lyrical phrase or an image so real and haunting that I finally have to look away. Books filled with characters so complex and honest that surely they exist in a world beyond the pages of the books. While I'm compelled to reach the ending and gobble every word, I resist sprinting to that final page.

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri is one of these exceptional books. Saba has only vague memories of the day her mother and twin sister Mahtab flew away to America, leaving Saba behind in Iran with her father. Resisting the post-revolutionary Iran, Saba is obsessed with banned American music, movies and TV. She imagines the life of freedom Mahtab is living in America as she experiences love, heartache and the cruel barbarity of the New Iran.

That description, while technically accurate, seems not enough to invoke the emotion and power within the pages of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea. The book captures the desires of all women throughout the world, while creating a distinctive and individual character of Saba--uniquely her own, with her own personal struggles. The supporting cast are equally important and well developed--they are people either fighting against or giving-in to their personal destinies while their lives are entangled with Saba's.

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea could be labeled as a "coming-of-age" story, yet that title alone is not enough to encompass its themes and value. It's a social commentary about the injustices against women. It's a call for each woman to be strong enough to make their own choices and reach their own dreams. In the end, it's a marvelous, passionate read about a story-teller named Saba who made her own dream come true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bella Rosa VINE VOICE on March 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In 1981, two years after the Iranian Revolution, eleven year old twins Saba and Mahtab Hafezi are planning to leave Iran for American with their mother. There's confusion in the airport, however, and Saba grows up convinced that Mahtab and her mother left without her. As she grows older, dealing with the restrictions in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba imagines the life Mahtab is leading in America.

The narrative switches between Saba's story, her imaginings of Mahtab's life and other stories from people connected with the family which give a clearer picture of what really happened to break up Saba's family.

I didn't like this as much as I'd hoped. The stories about Mahtab slowed the narrative, in my opinion, and while I sympathized with Saba for the situation she had to live in, I found myself siding with Khanom Basir in feeling that Saba was so damaged she couldn't help but hurt those who cared for her. I'd still recommend the book for anyone interested in Iranian culture and the social adjustments that followed the Revolution.
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