Together Tea by Marjan Kamali. Publisher: ecco (2013). Fiction. 336 pages. ISBN: 978-0-06-223680-7.
Marjan Kamali spent a decade to completing her debut novel, Together Tea, due to various life events. She first developed the concept as an MFA student at NYU [while simultaneously completing her MBA at Columbia]. She wanted to write about an Iranian-American immigrants in an amusing style without falling into stereotypes.
The novel focuses on Mina, a twenty-something MBA student with dreams of being an artist, and her mother Darya, who abandoned her goal to be a math teacher when she fled Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. At the start, Darya’s setting Mina up for another date after using her intricate spreadsheet calculations to determine compatibility. Darya’s always telling Mina about how wonderful life in Iran was and how much she misses it. Mina decides she needs to see Darya’s Iran for herself and decides to go during her winter vacation. Darya volunteers to join her. So the mother and daughter set off back to their homeland.
“What if the country and history her parents loved was still buried there? What if she could find it? Could Mina go back and see what Darya meant when she said she wanted Mina to have “everything she had”? Mina had always wished that she could have known the Iran Darya had grown up in, instead of the Iran she herself had escaped from. Could she find it and piece it together if she went back there as an adult?”
Mina studies hard but isn’t truly happy with pursuing an MBA. She aches to become an artist. Her conservative parents don’t think that’s a career, something lucrative or stable. As Mina contemplates her present, she realizes that her past in Iran shapes her as an individual today. She wants to experience Iran in order to make sense of her present self. Is she an immigrant or an American or a combination of both? Once in Iran, she and her mother re-discover the old beauty and traditions as well as young people secretly embracing Western culture.
“Mina knew how to study and work very hard. She knew how to swing her legs on that hyphen that defined and denied who she was: Iranian-American. Neither the first word nor the second really belonged to her. Her place was on the hyphen, and on the hyphen she would stay, carrying memories of the one place from which she had come and the other place in which she must succeed. The hyphen was hers—a pace small, potentially precarious. On the hyphen she would sit and on the hyphen she would stand and soon, like a seasoned acrobat, she would balance there perfectly, never falling, never choosing either side over the other, content with walking that thin line.”
Together Tea provides a novel insight into the immigrant experience. Humor, love, respect and mother-daughter bonding make this a book you’ll long remember after finishing the last page. It’s a love story to Persia as well as an acceptance for the United States.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.
***I can giveaway one copy of Together Tea to U.S. residents only. If interested please provide email address in comments. Entries close July 20.