It’s 2004 and Lisbon-born Jan Demir at, 30, is a very successful businessman content with his jet-setting lifestyle and girlfriend of the moment. Then he travels to Iran to meet a business contact and discovers the opinionated and beautiful Golnaz, also known as Naz: “Was this what love at first sight was like?
He had never fallen-truly fallen-in love before. Excitement danced inside him, and he found himself infatuated not just with a local Persian girl but with Persian culture.”
An omniscient narrator details the unfolding relationship between the two from their perspectives over a period of about two months and several international locales as they initially meet in Tehran, travel to the Iranian city of Shiraz, then romance in Lisbon, London and Paris.
This is the author’s first novel and he hints that it’s somewhat autobiographical since the protagonist has many of the same attributes as himself: both are well-educated, successful international entrepreneurs who are fluent in many languages and love to travel.
Daud has a wonderfully visual way with words, “Her expressive eyes locked on his, causing sweat to percolate on his brow.”
While sentence tense comes across a bit awkward at times and there’s the occasional missing word, it’s not too much of a distraction from the story as readers wonder if the two will ever connect and become a couple, considering this is Naz’s first impression of Jan: “This guy was acting so cocky he seemed self-centered; he didn’t even look like he was capable of empathizing with other human beings, which normally should have raised a flag.”
Intertwined in their evolving relationship is the famous medieval Persian poet Hafez, whose writings are said to reveal personal destiny.
It is Hafez’s shrine that Jan and Naz, a “modern” Iranian woman educated and working in Great Britain, visit along with her cousin and chaperone, Maryam. There, Jan comes to believe that Hafez’s poetry tells him that Naz is his destiny and the chase ensues, much to the detriment of his job and the chagrin of long-time business partner, Pascoal.
Readers who enjoy a good romance story and discovering distant cities and cultures will find this book to their liking. The author also intersperses interesting information about local Iranian cuisine and translation of Farsi phrases.
The novel’s first chapter is confusing initially; it appears to take place 50 years after the rest of the story, but upon re-reading, answers questions left hanging in the final chapter.
The conversational dance between Jan and Naz reflects real struggles as two very different people from two very different cultures try to understand one another and see if their togetherness will work.
Daud also does a good job showing that the ever-confident Jan has some chinks in his self-esteem because of his money-poor upbringing.
“Love is not a normal state but something out of the ordinary,” contemplates Jan. “Therefore, to mortals like you and me, Hafez seemed to be saying, love can only be a form of insanity.”
Robin Edmunds is a media clerk at Lee Elementary and a Manhattan resident.