Updated: Sep 23, 2021
Disoriental, by Négar Djavadi, translated from the original French by Tina Kover (2016)
For Book Thieves, which meets to discuss the book on Thursday, May 7.
Written by an Iranian woman who moved to France, the story is not autobiographical, but follows a family that makes the same journey, as political refugees. At 10 years old, Kimia, the narrator, leaves Iran with her family to settle in France, but feels alienated and othered there, and never seems to find her "home."
In French, the title, Désorientale, aptly combines Oriental (anyone from the East) and désorienter (losing orientation/direction), and of course the affect is the same in English, with Oriental and disoriented... A young girl disoriented, and asked to become dis-Oriental in her move to the West. A bisexual young woman going through an existential crisis.
Djavadi also makes use of the prefix dis- in the following passage about immigration and integration:
"...to really integrate into a culture, I can tell you that you have to disintigrate first, at least partially, from your own. You have to separate, detach, disassociate. No one who demands that immigrants made 'an effort at integration' would dare look them in the face and ask them to start by making the necessary 'effort at disintegration.' They're asking people to stand atop the mountain without climbing up first."
I thought the writing was beautiful, and there were certain passages that really stuck with me, like the one above. But I also started to lose interest about halfway through... I'm not entirely sure why, because I did find the subject matter interesting. I think it just felt like the story went on too long. Maybe there was a little too much fluff and not enough substance? Or... as I consider it, too much substance and not enough fluff... and by that I mean that in the latter half the book seemed to pick up the pace with discussing Kimia's parents' political views and the Iranian Revolution, which was harder for me to connect to. Honestly I'm not really sure why I lost interest. I'm really curious to see what the Book Thieves discussion yields. Sometimes it is through discussion that my own thoughts are solidified.
Two more quotes I liked a lot:
"...given the order to draught-proof the doors and windows and to stay inside until the world calmed down a bit. How long would that cursed storm last? What state would his lands be in when it was over?"
(thinking about our current quarantine situation from COVID-19)
"Sleep isn't about resting, it's about letting yourself settle, like the sediment at the bottom of a wine barrel. I'm nowhere near trusting this world that much."
2019 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction
Shortlisted for the 2019 Albertine Prize
Shortlisted for the 2019 Warwick Prize for Women in Translation
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