Fiction – paperback; Abacus; 270 pages; 2007.
Set in London and rural Iran The Saffron Kitchen examines how the country of our birth and the culture in which we are born can have long-lasting effects on our values and sense of self. It also looks at how our relationships — with family, friends and lovers — can shape our past, present and future lives.
Told from the view point of an Iranian-born mother and her London-born daughter, the novel also reveals how difficult it can be to start a new life in a foreign land when you do not know the language and have no support network to guide you. How does one fit in? And what do you do if you feel you don’t truly belong?
These questions haunt the main character of this intriguing novel. Maryam Mazar is an Iranian-born woman who fled to England when her father, a strong military man, disowned her. Here she met Edward, an Englishman, married him, had his child and settled in the leafy, affluent London suburb of Richmond. But over the course of their long married life Maryam was haunted by her past, particularly her father’s brutality. Although she kept these concerns to herself, Edward was always suspicious that it was not just the pull of the snow-capped mountains and windswept plains of her homeland that were causing her restlessness and dramatic mood swings.
It is only when Maryam’s daughter, Sara, suffers a miscarriage that Maryam must truly face the demons of her past. Desperate to find solace among her own people she flees to the remote Iranian village of her childhood where she must face another dilemma: should she return to her husband in London or live out the rest of her days in her homeland?
There’s no doubt that The Saffron Kitchen is an enjoyable, entertaining read and that Crowther is an accomplished writer. But I had some problems with it.
First, the book’s structure seemed a little odd. Parts of the storyline are told through Maryam’s eyes (in the third person), others through Sara’s (in the first person) and the switches between the two narratives often felt clunky.
Second, there was a slight tendency towards melodrama, with some of the scenes — and much of the dialogue — feeling forced and unnatural. A bit more polish and perhaps another draft might have ironed this out.
Finally, I’m not sure that Maryam would really have made the decision she made at the end. Of course, I can’t really say more than that without revealing a major plot spoiler, so you’ll have to trust me on this!
But on the whole The Saffron Kitchen brings to life the stark differences between staid, safe England and the confusion and turbulence of Iran’s political past, and for that reason alone it is worth a read.