If I had to summarize Liora in one sentence, I would have written: Liora, is the story of a woman who doesn’t know how to live in the present. Or a woman who remains stuck in her past in an obsessive way. Liora is also a story about love. This question remains unanswered until the end of the novel and the writer gives the reader this opportunity to define their own ending or even their own meaning of love.
Fariba Sedighim knows well her characters, so the way she depicts them leaves no ambiguity for the reader. What I found the most interesting was the fact that she barely gives any specific details about their appearance, but somehow, the reader can easily see and imagine the characters without any difficulty.
The novel starts in the present time, but soon enough it moves back and forth between the present and different periods of time in the past. These transitions never feel rough and the reader can easily follow the flow of the story with clarity.
The story itself is not very complicated. What is complicated is the personality of the protagonist and how she faces her struggles.
Liora suspects her husband of seventeen years for having an affair. This opening is enough to hook the reader.
At first, the reader might feel frustrated by this suspicion, based on nothing concrete, but also by her silence. Facing any situation, she remains silent and instead a memory from her childhood emerges. A few chapters into the story we learn that her father had left her mother for another woman for a short period of time, and this event has affected not only Liora, but every other family member.
Fariba manages to create sympathy in the mind of the reader for a protagonist who, at the beginning, is not very sympathetic. Her anxiety and paranoid, rooted in her past, are clearly depicted and make her unable to live in the present.
This paranoia also makes her unable to make her decision about her own feelings. Homayoon the first love of her life leaves Iran and shortly after his departure, Liora falls in love with Kian, who becomes her husband.
Kian has a charming personality, good looks and easily makes her fall in love with him. What we never see though is why Kian falls in love with Liora. She barely talks to him. They barely have any significant discussion. And yet they stay married for seventeen years. One of the shortcomings of the novel in my opinion, is lack of clarity about these seventeen years. They have no children, and none of them seems to be happy. Still Liora is hanging onto this life with a deep obsession with Kian. She even follows him or hires a private detective.
But still she has doubts about her own feelings. When she hears about her first love coming to the town, she rushes to see him. But in the last minute she changes her mind and doesn’t even talk to him. For me, this moment is a turning point in her mind. But who am I to decide? It might seem clear to me, but for Liora it isn’t enough. She remains confused.
In a sense, Liora is a passive character, even when she tries to get out of her shell. Things seem to be happening to her and she doesn’t act, or even react. All she does is to escape into her own memories. Liora, as an adult, is a woman who would think twice (or more) before making any decision. Also as a child she is more of an observer, which is normal, being a child, so even her active participation in “political” movement, to me seemed more like an act of love, not conviction.
As I said the story of Liora is not complicated, and the open ending leaves the reader free to decide.
Liora is a thought provoking novel. It questions the human psychology and the way relationships are formed and how small events of the past can ruin a whole lifetime. Liora is a sad character. Plus, she can’t love or trust or forget and forgive.
No matter the ending we might imagine, Liora will never be happy.
Fariba Sedighim is Jewish, and the protagonist happens to be Jewish too. But this novel is mostly about human condition and the religion does not affect the moral of the story. Liora could have had any religion. It wouldn’t have changed a bit this story. But Liora belongs to a generation of Iranians who have experienced the same series of events. A lost generation, as some might say, but to me it is not the case. All these experiences, good or bad, has given her character a kind of depth and somehow justifies the way she feels or acts. The uncertainty, and the impossibility of making a decision, her questioning of the meaning of love, her mistrust of the world, and her escape from the present come from the collective memory of a generation burnt by revolution, war, exile and immigration.
What is the most original in the novel, is not the story or even the structure (with all flashbacks masterfully taking the reader back and forth between times). The strength of Fariba Sedighim’s writing is her language and the use of language. She is a poet, but she doesn’t overdo the poetic descriptions. She is also a story teller, and she knows how to glue her reader to the page with ease. Fariba knows well the craft of writing, but doesn’t try to impress the reader and to show off her mastery of the language. There are books where the style dominates the substance. But for Fariba’s novel, fortunately, it is not the case. Even though her voice is original, her techniques are to the point, and her style of story-telling is unique, but she wouldn’t scarify the substance over the style.
Liora is a novel to be read and to be remembered.
I can’t wait for Fariba’s next novel.