Perhaps most of us occasionally long for earlier, happier times, but Maryam Mazar puts her yearning into action, returning to Iran from England in a struggle to make sense of our days and dispel the demons of her youth. There, haunted by the words of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach, she reunites with the love who introduced that poem and the English language to her. What's more, she gains insight into her long-dead father's behavior toward her, whether or not she can forgive it. Later, Sara, her daughter, in the aftermath of a miscarriage which Maryam had unintentionally caused, visits her in her new-old life, and learns how her mother's background still influences her life decisions.
This conflicted lament for the order of things, which Maryam never accepted, but returns to in the end, is a delicate filigree of a story told as much by implication and atmosphere as by straightforward narration. In its take on mother-daughter relationships, The Saffron Kitchen has been compared to Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. To this reader, it seems at least as reminiscent of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, with its protagonist's return to a Middle Eastern scene of tragic private history, and some ensuing form of reconciliation. The sights and smells of life in Iran are powerfully evoked, like Maryam's early life, and the kitchen where she had grown up among saffron and coriander. Indeed an identifiable theme of the book is that in the very courtyard where chickens defecate, crocuses live and die and live again, and that saffron comes from the dirt. Yet, the impersonal timelessness of time makes a huge impact on personal lives and spirits.
This is a story of two worlds and a woman who does not totally fit into either one. In this evocative first novel, Yasmin Crowther makes a beautifully expressed case for first homes and old loves. But, for the reader, in the end many questions are left to wander the mind, both unasked and unanswered. Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.