"Children of the Jacaranda Tree"
By Sahar Delijani
Let's get one thing out of the way: I admire Sahar Delijani for taking on post-revolutionary Iran as the subject of her debut novel. It is a tough topic to tackle, especially for a novelist trying, as Delijani does, to explore the emotions involved in what is simply not a very black-and-white subject.
It's even more ambitious to explore the past 30-something years using multiple characters, multiple generations and multiple uprisings. Delijani didn't make it easy on herself.
Unfortunately, the result is a novel whose pieces never really gel, and where what appear to be intentional attempts to keep things vague for purposes of ambience can leave a reader flustered and confused.
Each chapter of "Jacaranda" tells the tale of a character or multiple characters somehow affected by one of the most traumatic episodes that followed the Iranian Revolution: the 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners. This purge came as Islamist forces continued to consolidate their grip on the country following the ouster of the shah, crushing a range of other activists - communists, secularists and more - who had also fought the monarchy.
Delijani, who herself was born in an Iranian prison, bases some of the story on that of her family. Her uncle was executed and her parents had been imprisoned but managed to avoid the purge. She goes well beyond her parents' generation, however, and into that of her own.
I'm quite familiar with Iranian history, but even I frequently found the novel hard to follow. There are far too many characters, and their relationships to one another are not always clearly established.
The oppressor - the Islamist government of Iran - isn't always clearly defined.If the book is designed to educate a Western audience, it doesn't do a very good job. Plenty of readers may find themselves having to turn to other sources for help on understanding what's going on.
Nahal Toosi, The Associated Press
"Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns"
By Lauren Weisberger
Who said fashion is all about the next new thing? Author Lauren Weisberger revisits her over-the-top characters from "The Devil Wears Prada," including top magazine editor and ice queen Miranda Priestly, 10 years later in "Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns." It turns out, other than a few fleeting trends that clearly define the setting as 2013, things haven't changed all that much.
Miranda, widely rumored to be based on Vogue's Anna Wintour, for whom Weisberger once worked, isn't really the main character, although she is the most fun to read about. The story belongs to Andy Sachs.
Andy quit Runway magazine at the end of the last book, taking pleasure in leaving Miranda high and dry in Paris without an assistant. Miranda's cold, calculating and cruel ways have haunted Andy for a decade. The story opens with a literal nightmare about Andy not delivering Miranda's lunch on time.
The primary driver of the plot is that Miranda wants to buy the wedding magazine created by Andy and her friend Emily, also a formerly tortured Runway employee. It's fun to see her try so hard to be civil and gracious, and especially to see her flirt with tennis star Rafael Nadal. (Wintour is a famous fan of tennis.)
Andy, however, isn't all that interesting. It seems hard to imagine that in the relatively small, insular world of fashion magazines and, taking into consideration Andy's success, she still trembles at the mere mention of Miranda's name.
The book successfully sprinkles pop culture tidbits to keep up the breezy tone, but the mix of real and fictional references can be puzzling: Why use the real names of Nadal, designer Monique Lhuillier and hairstylist Oscar Blandi when celebrities that seem so obviously fashioned on Beyonce and Jay-Z are called something else?
The of-the-moment shout-outs might also limit the shelf life of the book, but for this summer, it's a pleasant, entertaining read in a tabloid magazine sort of way.
Samantha Critchell, AP Fashion Writer