Tehran-born Dina Nayeri knows all about being split between two worlds—her family immigrated to Oklahoma when she was ten. In A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, Nayeri returns to 1980s Iran to tell the story of twins Saba and Mahtab, who are obsessed with American culture. After Mahtab and her mother mysteriously disappear, 11-year-old Saba is convinced that they have moved to America without her. As she grows up, Saba imagines Mahtab’s life unfolding parallel to hers in America, while Saba struggles within the confines of a small village in post-revolutionary Iran.
Nayeri is telling two stories here: the never fully satisfied fairy tale of twins suddenly and violently separated, and the far more interesting story of Saba’s life in Iran. As Saba grows up, Nayeri touches on such topics as feminist revolutionary groups, queerness in Iranian culture, Islamic universities, secret Christians, arranged marriages, and the risks of the black market—topics that I wish had been more fully explored, though the glimpses are more than captivating.
Above all, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is about storytelling. Saba tells stories about Mahtab; the local village women tell traditional folk tales; and Saba’s father lies to the village mullah to hide his illegal Christian faith. All are powerful forms of storytelling that blur the line between truth and lies, or raast and doroogh, immersing the reader in the dangers and delights of 1980s Iran.
By Erika W. Smith