The back of the book synopsis is a bit misleading, I felt, and the GoodReads synopsis is not much better. When I first heard of this book, a book club member simply said it was about an Iranian-American family where the mother continues to set up potential marital matches for her daughter via spreadsheet. This is, essentially, how the book begins, but from there it delves into much deeper subjects. There’s a lot of cultural and historical exploration, as well as a wonderful look at what it means to be caught between two cultures.
Who knew if it was right or wrong? They had uprooted their lives. The children. She knew by heart Parviz’s speech about freedom and possibility and the future. But she was taking them away from the safety of the extended family. Plucking them out of the life and the world they knew and dropping them somewhere else. Even if their country had turned crazy, it was still their country.
Mina, the daughter and one of the two narrators of the book, moved to America from Iran when she was only ten years old. Her mother, Darya, moved at the same time. Both have different ideas about their Iranian life versus their American life. Neither idea, for either of them, is purely good or purely bad. There is a lot of balance here. An exploration of culture, drastic change, and dual-existence.
In that sense, Together Tea was wonderful. I’ve read a lot about Iran’s history since first coming across Reading Lolita in Tehran years ago. It took me a long time to really understand the nature of and causes behind the Iranian revolution. Every book I’ve read on the subject – fictional and nonfictional – has shown a different aspect of Iran before and after, on the way things changed.
Mina had to relearn the “facts.” She saw that the definitions of things like “history,” “good,” and “bad” shifted depending on who was in power. Mina realized that whoever had access to the dispensing information drew and colored the world.
It’s a theme not uncommon in books about sudden regime changes. This quote brought to mind 1984 and the shifting news sources in Orwell’s world. Very powerful.
My only real qualm with the book is that the narrative from beginning to end felt a little uneven. At the beginning, it seemed to be a sort of wry, lighthearted look at cultural differences and the immigrant experience, as Darya keeps trying to arrange Mina’s life. Then it switches to an in-depth and very serious look at revolution and fear. Then it moves to a sort of identity awakening, and lastly ends up in romance. The shifts aren’t jarring or anything, just a little strange to move from one focus/seriousness to another.
Still, it was a really wonderful book. If I hadn’t been familiar with Iranian history already, this would have been a great place to start learning. The detail was incredibly rich – scents, sounds, tastes, colors…all of it amazing. I swear I was hungry the entire time I was reading! (Middle Eastern food is my absolute favorite in the world!) The scene by the tree in the park…I could feel every bit of the acute fear mixed with longing, so much so that my heart was racing by the end…it was that good.
So yes. This one is definitely worth reading. (And my copy is autographed! Woohoo!)