...[a] remarkable novel ... beautifully captures the 'disorientation' of exile and the attempt to reconstruct a self through family stories ... If there is one element weighing down this rich novel (translated from the French by Tina Kover), it’s the exiled narrator’s compulsion to explain so much of her country’s past. The book contains not only extensive historical passages but also footnotes ... But perhaps explaining a lost world is part of any exile’s initial burden.
What is obvious from the beginning of this riveting novel is that Djavadi is an immensely gifted storyteller, and Kimiâ’s tale is especially compelling ...
Kimiâ unthreads the narratives of her family history, and the shaping of her own identity, with the insight and verve of a master storyteller.
Disoriental, a stylistically fragmented novel by the French-Iranian Négar Djavadi, reads like a multilayered pastiche of unrelated themes, yet all connected to Kimiâ Sadr’s troubled life ... Djavadi’s writing paints the most complex human emotions with ease and depth. The reader cannot remain indifferent to Kimiâ’s rawness and vulnerability. Like Scheherazade, Djavadi’s protagonist is a storyteller, but unlike her, she doesn’t use storytelling as a device to please or feel loved. Neither is she motivated by her struggle as an immigrant, nor by her confusion over her sexual orientation. She writes to define and engrave the meaning of her father’s life — to glorify him — and not to let his family’s story vanish in the ruins of passing time ... The novel, originally written in French and translated by Tina Kover, leaves a different impression in English. The French language, by nature, uses a more complex sentence structure. Djavadi’s prose is rich, deep, lyrical, with cinematographic quality, and the structure of her sentences adds more elegance to the flow of narration. But as this prose is translated, faithfully, into English, the well-crafted French sentence sometimes becomes the long English paragraph, where the subject and verb have lost each other. In spite of the novel’s heavy themes, Djavadi, by smart use of humor at tragic moments, lifts her reader’s spirit and alleviates the atmosphere. On the other hand, it could be perceived as Kimiâ’s weakness, as she hides her sorrow behind a facade, acting as if everything is fine.
...a novel teeming with perspicacious observations and hypotheses on exile, statelessness and reshaping identity. Tina Kover’s dynamic translation into English is a high-wire act, capturing all the animation and vigour of a breathless narrative voice ... The novel pulsates with life, but does not shirk from violence — seen mostly from a child’s perspective. The gorgeous prose, the heady elements of magical realism...takes the edge off the relentless turmoil described throughout. Similarly, Djavadi’s humour is infectious, whether overtly satirical or simply wisecracking ... Though by no means a failure, the wildly persuasive expressiveness of the first half of Disoriental does flag during its second. Nevertheless, it is an absorbing, important and noteworthy counterpoint to western accounts of this period of Iran’s history and its abiding aftermath.
As a native of Iran who read the book in English, I found the nonlinear style sometimes exaggerated, and kind of confusing—not for me, who knows a lot about Iran’s political and social history, but rather for Western readers. That said, Djavadi is an admirable and artful storyteller. She inspires patience in the reader, and then encourages her audience to join in historical adventures with the narrator. Like the Persian Scheherazade, the storyteller, Djavadi does everything she can to maintain interest in the story she is telling.
Disoriental, Négar Djavadi’s sophisticated debut novel, is brilliantly translated by Tina Kover and teems with fully realised characters ... Djavadi’s beguiling tale-telling, cynical and lyrical by turns, extends to an account of Iranian history ... Djavadi treats the immigrant condition with intelligence and compassion, exploring how, in order to integrate into a culture, 'you have to disintegrate first' ... Spiced with foreshadowings, packed with big issues from Aids to the rise of the far right, and tempered by strategic reticence, this novel compels the reader’s attention as consistently as it entertains.
The title of the book, Disoriental, beautifully encompasses not just the experience of the narrator throughout her life across geographies, eras, and identities but also what Djavadi seems to have envisioned for her readers’ experience of the book. The captivating story of a girl who grows into a woman dealing with the burdens of history on her country, her family, and herself, Disoriental offers so much to both non-Iranian and Iranian readers.
Djavadi’s momentous first novel is a both a multigenerational family saga and a history of modern Iran ... The novel convincingly and powerfully explores the enormous weight of one’s family and culture on individual identity, especially the exile’s.
Djavadi works hard to keep the reader oriented within the welter of stories and characters ... Well-placed footnotes help, the tone often gently mocking. Though there's plenty of tragedy here, there's humor as well ... Authentic, ambitious, richly layered, and very readable.