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The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azari

Twenty years ago, I fell in love with the magical realism in One Hundred Years of Solitude. I had never read this type of novel before and was carried away by the lyricism.

However, I fear I might have fallen out of love with magical lyricism. Perhaps it is my stage of life, with three children underfoot, and overstuffed bags under my eyes, but I struggled to get carried away with The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, and as a result, instead of being swept away, I trudged through the story. I have written before of whether certain books suit certain times, and I feel this was the case with Shokoofeh Azarr’s book.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree was shortlisted for the Stella Prize for Fiction and has received many accolades. It centres on the story set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Translated from Farsi, there are many beautiful passages, and the image of the mermaid is unforgettable.

Azari weaves a story that has an undercurrent of sadness, and even passages of brutality and horror are written with an air of sad resignation. When a child is killed, or her brother executed, Azari barely skips a beat. This strangeness of this book or readers unaccustomed to this style of writing means that it requires concentration and a dedication to the story – it is no easy read, but dense with imagery and description.

After having read this work of magical realism, I’m tempted to revisit One Hundred Years of Solitude to see whether it strikes me in the same way that it did all of those years ago. But I’m a little afraid that I won’t feel the same and it might be a little like greeting a long ago boyfriend in the street, and wondering what I ever saw in him.

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